Vincent van Gogh – The Letters
The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition
Slipcase containing 6 volumes
30 x 25 cm / 2,180 pages / Approximately 4,300 illustrations
Retail price € 395
Launch price € 325 until 3 January 2010
978 90 6153 853 0
Van Gogh Museum
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Published by the Van Gogh Museum, the Huygens Institute and Mercatorfonds
Distributed in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg by Mercatorfonds, Brussels
Distributed outside Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg by Thames & Hudson, London
The letters of Vincent van Gogh in 6 volumes
Van Gogh Museum – Huygens Institute – Mercatorfonds
The publication of the correspondence of Vincent van Gogh in October 2009
marks the culmination of fifteen years of research by the Van Gogh Museum,
Amsterdam, and the Huygens Institute in The Hague. Its six volumes contain
all of Van Gogh’s correspondence, comprising 819 letters written by the painter
and 83 addressed to him. Van Gogh often added sketches or drawings to his
letters and filled them with references to the widest possible range of artists.
Every mentioned work is reproduced here, including not only Van Gogh’s own
paintings and drawings, but also all the works that inspired him, a total of
nearly 4,300 reproductions. The letters are accompanied by a detailed study
of Van Gogh’s life and work, reviewed in the light of this lengthy research.
Volume 1 (344 p.)
The Hague – London – Paris – Ramsgate and Isleworth – Dordrecht – Amsterdam – Borinage and Brussels – Etten
Volume 2 (424 p.)
Volume 3 (376 p.)
Drenthe – Nuenen – Antwerp – Paris
Volume 4 (452 p.)
Volume 5 (328 p.)
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence – Auvers-sur-Oise – Related manuscripts
Volume 6 (256 p.)
Acknowledgements – About this edition – Abbreviations – Van Gogh’s letters: their background and history –
Van Gogh: A biographical sketch – Chronology – Maps and plans – The immediate family circle –
Genealogies of the Van Gogh and Carbentus families – The correspondents – Glossary of materials
and techniques – The altered composition of the letters – Concordance of letter numbers – Bibliography –
Index of works – Index of names – Photographic credits
Cover: Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo | Arles, 12 May 1888 | Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
At the bottom of our hearts good old Gauguin and
I understand each other, and if we’re a bit mad, so be
it, aren’t we also a little suYciently deeply artistic to
contradict anxieties in that regard by what we say with
Perhaps everyone will one day have neurosis, the
Horla,14 St Vitus’s Dance or something else.
But doesn’t the antidote exist? In Delacroix, in
Berlioz and Wagner? And really, our artistic madness
which all the rest of us have, I don’t say that I especially
haven’t been struck to the marrow by it. But I say and
will maintain that our antidotes and consolations can,
with a little good will, be considered as amply prevalent.
See Puvis de Chavannes’ Hope .
11. See letters 602, n. 16, and 735, n. 8.
12. See letter 568, n. 3 (Voltaire, Candide).
13. See letter 704, n. 10. The ‘Folies
arlésiennes’ was a café-concert with a salle
de fêtes at 4 avenue Victor Hugo. The play
must have been La Pastorale, performed
on 25, 26 and 27 January by a company
from Marseille (see L’Homme de Bronze,
14. See letter 739, n. 7 (Maupassant,
The Van Gogh Letters project and the publication Vincent van Gogh – The Letters received financial support from:
The Vincent van Gogh Foundation – The Turing Foundation – The International Music & Art Foundation – The Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds –
Linea d’Ombra – Shigeru Myojin and Sherif Nadar – The Orentreich Family Foundation – Metamorfoze – A donation from Ernst Nijkerk in
memory of Inge Nijkerk - von der Laden
ever I had need of him I could consult him as a friend.
To which I’m a long way from saying no, and I may
soon be in precisely that case if diYculties were to arise
for the house. I’m waiting for the moment to come to
pay my month’s rent to interrogate the manager or the
owner face to face.11
But to chuck me out they’d more likely get a kick
in the backside, on this occasion at least. What can you
say, we’ve gone all-out for the Impressionists, now as
regards myself I’m trying to ﬁnish the canvases which
will indubitably guarantee my little place that I’ve taken
Ah, the future of that… but from the moment when
père Pangloss assures us that everything is always for the
best in the best of worlds12 – can we doubt it?
My letter has become longer than I intended, it
matters little – the main thing is that I ask categorically
for two months’ work before settling what will need to
be settled at the time of your marriage.
Afterwards, you and your wife will set up a
commercial firm for several generations in the renewal.
You won’t have it easy. And once that’s sorted out I ask
only a place as an employed painter as long as there’s
enough to pay for one.
As a matter of fact, work distracts me. And I must
have distractions – yesterday I went to the Folies
Arlésiennes, the budding theatre here – it was the ﬁrst
time I’ve slept without a serious nightmare. They were
performing – (it was a Provençal literary society) what
they call a Noel or Pastourale, a remnant of Christian
theatre of the Middle Ages. It was very studied and it
must have cost them some money.
Naturally it depicted the birth of Christ, intermingled
with the burlesque story of a family of astounded
Provençal peasants. Good – what was amazing, like
a Rembrandt etching – was the old peasant woman,
just the sort of woman Mrs Tanguy would be, with
a head of ﬂint or gun ﬂint, false, treacherous, mad, all
that could be seen previously in the play. Now that
woman, in the play, brought before the mystic crib
– in her quavering voice began to sing and then her
voice changed, changed from witch to angel and from
the voice of an angel into the voice of a child and
then the answer by another voice, this one ﬁrm and
warmly vibrant, a woman’s voice, behind the scenes.
That was amazing, amazing. I tell you, the so-called
‘Félibres’ had anyway spared themselves neither trouble
As for me, with this little country here I have no
need at all to go to the tropics.
I believe and will always believe in the art to be
created in the tropics, and I believe it will be marvellous,
but well, personally I’m too old and (especially if I get
myself a papier-mâché ear) too jerry-built to go there.
Will Gauguin do it? It isn’t necessary. For if it must
be done it will be done all on its own.
We are merely links in the chain.
Vincent van Gogh – The Letters
The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition
Edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker
Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh’s letters have attracted interest and
admiration ever since they became widely known after
their first publication more than a century ago. They
have been eagerly seized upon as a source of informa
tion about Van Gogh’s gripping life story and excep
tional work, and there is broad recognition of the
intrinsic qualities of his writing: the personal tone, evocat
ive style and lively language. Without a gift for words,
Van Gogh’s account of his trials and tribulations would
have been nothing more than a litany of hope and
struggle. In fact, his extremely personal correspondence
rises above the purely individual and, as a result, attains
the universality of all great literature.
By far the majority of Van Gogh’s letters are addressed
to his brother Theo. The earliest known letter dates
from 29 September 1872, the last one from a few days
before his death on 29 July 1890. After Vincent’s death,
Theo felt that he had a mission to find understanding and
esteem for this work, in collaboration with a small group
of sympathetic artists and critics. But Theo survived
Vincent by only six months, and it was left to his widow,
Jo van Gogh-Bonger, and Van Gogh’s friend, the artist
Emile Bernard, to take over this responsibility. By
organizing exhibitions of his work and publishing his
letters, they helped to foster Van Gogh’s reputation.
Although they were never written with any idea of
publication in mind, Van Gogh’s letters have been scru
tinized by biographers, art historians, psychologists and
imaginative writers for the many insights expressed in
them. They can be studied for their literary qualities,
for the clues they provide about Van Gogh’s place in
the artistic and intellectual context of his time in both
Holland and France, for the information they give about
the materials and techniques of his paintings and draw
ings, and, of course, for the way in which they docu
ment both his external experiences and his interior life.
Van Gogh’s letters also tell us a great deal about his
opinions of other artists. We can follow his admiration
of a diverse range of painters: Rembrandt, Eugène
Delacroix and Jean-François Millet were among his
role models, but artists from his immediate circle pro
vided him with inspiration as well at various stages in
his development, such as Anton Mauve, Emile Bernard
and Paul Gauguin.
Wide-ranging though Van Gogh’s letters are, it
would be misleading to compare them to a diary.
‘Writing is actually an awful way to explain things to
each other,’ Van Gogh wrote to his brother. That
sounds paradoxical, coming from someone with such
an obvious epistolary talent. But he understood that
paradox better than anyone else, and for readers and
students of his letters it is a warning always to be care
ful about interpretation and exegesis. Nevertheless, the
letters do help us to arrange his oeuvre in chronological
order and to understand the ambitions that lay behind it.
Furthermore, they contain essential pointers to Van
Gogh’s intellectual development, both during his artis
tic career and in the period preceding it.
The letters make it possible to see how, as an artist
starting out on his careeer, he first concentrated on
drawing, using manuals and books; how he expe
rimented with materials such as natural chalk, litho
graphic crayon and the reed pen, and implements such
as the perspective frame; how he often worked in
‘campaigns’; the stimuli he received from his reading
and visits to museums; his ideas about the use of colour;
how his first ambition to be a ‘peasant painter’ gradu
ally metamorphosed into that of a ‘modern painter’; what
the ideals of the ‘studio of the south’ were; and the
direct ion he felt that modern art should take. This list is
incomplete; its only purpose is to illustrate the unparal
leled wealth of information that these letters contain.
The letters Van Gogh wrote to artist friends form a
distinct group within the correspondence. The impor
tance of the exchange of letters with Gauguin and Ber
nard goes beyond the study of Van Gogh’s life and work,
for this was a key episode in art history. The friends’
discussions about abstraction, colour, the use of the
imagination and abandoning reality in favour of sugges
tion and symbolism touch on the roots of modern art
Up until 1886 Van Gogh wrote almost all his letters
in Dutch (they comprise about two thirds of the total),
and thereafter almost always in French. There are also a
few letters written in English. His French was good,
thanks to his reading and his contacts with French
The answer to the question as to why, as a Dutchman,
he corresponded in French even with members of his
own family is simple. With his keen sense of language he
had been surrounded by French for so long that he was
losing his day-to-day feel for Dutch and found French
easier. In addition, his brother Theo had lived in
France for a long time.
Van Gogh used normal, everyday words in his letters.
He was not averse to some sentimentality, but there is
no literary lyricism in his letter-writing style. He very
rarely used a higher idiom or intellectual terms, and when
he had to he often made his excuses for doing so. He
frequently revealed his driven personality through this
direct, unadorned style of writing, and he showed his
vulnerability by expressing ideals, by getting into argu
ments, and by sharing with the reader his outrage, his
melancholy, and later his mental illness. In the isolation
that he created through his difficult character, every
thing became a battle with the world around him and
The Van Gogh Letters Project
In 1914, writing in English, Jo van Gogh-Bonger
recalled that ‘When as Theo’s young wife I entered in
April, 1889, our flat in the Cité Pigalle in Paris, I found
in the bottom of a small desk a drawer full of letters
from Vincent, and week after week I saw the soon
familiar yellow envelopes with the characteristic hand
writing increase in number.’ Theo van Gogh hoarded
publication is the final result , together with an integral,
scholarly web edition (www.vangoghletters.org). Most
importantly, it corrects many misreadings and omissions
in the 1952–54 edition, on which the subsequent trans
lated editions were based. For the first time, every sin
gle work of art referred to by Van Gogh (as far as the
editors were able to identify them) is reproduced with
the letters. In addition to the comprehensive illustra
tions (the 1952–54 edition only had reproductions of let
ter sketches), this present edition offers substantial
improvements in several ways over all other editions to
The newly transcribed text has been entirely retrans
lated from first to last. The aim has been to render the
Dutch and French source texts into the most faithful
possible English, in a manner that neither adorns nor
‘improves’ Van Gogh’s original idiosyncratic voice. The
letters are fully annotated, incorporating all the most
recent scholarship, including new datings, and the
altered composition of several letters (for example,
where a sheet thought to belong to one letter is now
placed elsewhere). The edition also contains informa
tion about Van Gogh’s family and correspondents, a
chronology of his life and an essay on the biographical
and historical context of the letters, as well as maps, a
glossary of materials and techniques and extensive
indexes to help the reader navigate through the whole
edition. There is also a comprehensive bibliography
that includes not only works of literature to which Van
Gogh himself makes reference in his letters, but also
other scholarly sources that were consulted in the com
pilation of this edition.
The Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute
have made resources and manpower available on an
unprecedented scale for the Van Gogh Letters Project,
of which this edition is the result. It also takes every
possible advantage of all the research into Van Gogh’s
works and letters that has been carried out over the
course of more than a century. It will provide a source
of reliable scholarship and constant pleasure to both
specialist and general readers alike.
The following pages are taken from volume 4 of the present
publication, Arles, 1888-1889.
The publication of the new edition of Van Gogh’s
correspondence will be marked by an exhibition
in the Van Gogh Museum from 9 October 2009 to
3 January 2010 titled Van Gogh’s Letters: the Artist Speaks.
For more information see www.vangoghmuseum.com
many letters, photographs, bills, account books and
other documents, some of them mere scraps. After his
death in 1891 they remained in his estate thanks to Jo,
their son Vincent Willem and the Vincent van Gogh
Foundation, and they are now preserved in the Van
Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
The 902 letters published in the present edition represent
all the known correspondence: it consists of 819 letters
written by Van Gogh himself and 83 that he received.
In addition to the letters, there are 25 documents (referred
to here as ‘related manuscripts’) that consist of a number
of loose pages, each of which probably once formed
part of a letter but which cannot be placed, and several
unsent letters or drafts.
The publication history of the letters (see Volume 6)
is inextricably bound up with the public’s growing
appreciation of Van Gogh’s paintings. The existence of
the letters became known at around the same time that
he was beginning to gain recognition. The most sub
stantial portion of the correspondence, the group of let
ters to his brother Theo, was published in three vol
umes in the Netherlands as early as 1914, and these and
subsequent publications were generally intended for a
wide readership. Over the next forty years, as Van
Gogh’s reputation grew, more and more letters were pub
lished. In 1952 his nephew Vincent Willem van Gogh
published the first of four volumes of a ‘complete’ edi
tion: Verzamelde brieven (Collected Letters) was a mile
stone in the history of the publication of
Van Gogh’s correspondence. This edition was translated
in its entirety and published in English (1958), French
(1960) and German (1965). In the preface to the first
volume V.W. van Gogh expressed his wish to provide a
counterweight to all the free interpretations, tall stories
and myths about Van Gogh. He wrote: ‘I wish to say
that this edition is exclusively documentary in nature.’
These books became the essential point of reference
for half a century of international Van Gogh research.
As the counterpart to J.-B. de la Faille’s oeuvre catalogue
(published in 1928 and revised in 1970), they can unre
servedly be described as the most important Van Gogh
source of the twentieth century.
However, there was still a need for a scholarly edi
tion. As the eminent Van Gogh scholar Jan Hulsker
wrote in 1987: ‘An ideal edition of the complete letters
[…] would have to be more accurate in rendering the
texts, the letters would have to be placed in their cor
rect order in the light of the most recent research, and
it would have to be annotated, however sparingly.’
The Van Gogh Museum produced a new edition of
Van Gogh’s complete correspondence in 1990 to mark the
centenary of his death. New knowledge about the order
and dating of the letters, amassed since the appearance
of the previous major edition, the Verzamelde brieven
of 1952–54, was incorporated, and 21 letters were
added. Bound in four yellow volumes, De brieven was,
at the time, the most comprehensive edition of the
correspondence ever published, but since the letters
were all published in Dutch only, the enlargement of
the corpus benefited only a limited readership.
Hulsker’s challenge was finally taken up by the Van
Gogh Museum, which launched the Van Gogh Letters
Project with the Huygens Institute in 1994. The present
Arles, Tuesday, 5 or Wednesday, 6 June 1888
To Theo van Gogh (f)
My dear Theo –
If Gauguin wants to accept, and if the only obstacle
to going into business would be the travel, it’s better
not to keep him waiting. So I’ve written, although
I hardly had the time, having two canvases on the
easel .1 If you think the letter’s clear enough, send
it,2 if not, it would be better for us, too, to abstain
when in doubt.3 And the things you would do for him
shouldn’t upset the plan to bring our sisters over, and
especially not our needs, yours and mine. Because if we
ourselves don’t keep ourselves in a state of vigour, how
can we claim the right to get involved in other people’s
troubles? But at present we’re on the way to remaining
vigorous, and so let’s do the possible, what’s right in
front of us.
I’m sending you enclosed herewith canvas sample for
Tasset; however, I don’t know if we should go on with
If you send me the next letter by Sunday morning,
I’ll probably go off to Saintes-Maries again at 1 o’clock
that day and spend the week there.5
I’m reading a book about Wagner which I’ll send
you afterwards 6 – what an artist – one like that in
painting, now that would be something. It will come.
Do you know that at
that could be very interesting; now there’s two who’ve
travelled all over the place, he and his brother.7
I believe in the victory of Gauguin and other artists –
but – between then and now there’s a long time, and
even if he had the good fortune to sell one or two
canvases – it would be the same story. While waiting,
Gauguin could peg out like Meryon, discouraged.8
It’s bad that he’s not working – well, we’ll see his reply.
1. The second canvas was probably either
ill. 622.1 or 622.2.
4. Cf. letter 614.
5. Van Gogh received a telegraph money
order on Monday morning (letter 623), but
letters 623 and 625 indicate that he could not
afford to return to Saintes-Maries.
6. Probably Richard Wagner, Musiciens, poètes
et philosophes (1887), translated and with an
introduction by Camille Benoît.
7. The private exhibition in the studio of Félix
Régamey (Guillaume Régamey’s brother) was
announced in L’Intransigeant, 5 June 1888.
8. Charles Meryon had starved himself to death
in the asylum at Charenton.
My dear old Bernard,
Arles, June 1888
 Van Gogh, Fishing boats on the
beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer,
3. Derived from the Hippocratic adage
‘in dubio abstine’.
Arles, on or about Thursday, 7 June 1888
Gauguin coming to Arles (602)
Theo’s plan to get Willemien and Lies to
come and stay with him in Paris (615)
Visit to Saintes-Maries (617)
2. Vincent enclosed the letter for Theo to read
and forward to Gauguin, who in turn sent
it on to Emile Schuffenecker in the second
week of June (see Merlhès 1989, p. 68).
6 rue Coëllogon, rue de Rennes,
on 7 and 8 June from 1 to 7 o’clock
there’s an exhibition of paintings and drawings by
To Emile Bernard 621
More and more it seems to me that the paintings
that ought to be made, the paintings that are necessary,
indispensable for painting today to be fully itself and to
rise to a level equivalent to the serene peaks achieved
by the Greek sculptors, the German musicians,1 the
French writers of novels,2 exceed the power of an
isolated individual, and will therefore probably be
created by groups of men combining to carry out
a shared idea.
One has a superb orchestration of colours 3 and
The other overﬂows with new, harrowing or
charming conceptions, but is unable to express them
in a way that’s suYciently sonorous, given the timidity
of a limited palette.
Very good reason to regret the lack of an esprit de
corps among artists, who criticize each other, persecute
each other, while fortunately not succeeding in
cancelling each other out.
You’ll say that this whole argument is a banality.
So be it – but the thing itself – the existence of a
Renaissance – that fact is certainly not a banality.
A technical question. Do give me your opinion
in next letter.
I’m going to put the black and the white boldly
on my palette just the way the colourman sells them
to us, and use them as they are.
When – and note that I’m talking about the
simpliﬁcation of colour in the Japanese manner – when
I see in a green park with pink paths a gentleman
Gauguin’s illness (581)
Visit to Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer (617)
Bernard’s military service (575)
1. See letter 621, n. 6 (Wagner).
2. Van Gogh added ‘de romans’ (of novels)
3. Cf. letter 537, n. 6 (Blanc).
who’s dressed in black, and a justice of the peace by
profession (the Arab Jew in Daudet’s Tartarin calls
this honourable oYcial shustish of the beace),4 who’s
Above him and the park a sky of a simple cobalt.
Then why not paint the said shustish of the beace
with simple bone black and L’Intransigeant with simple,
very harsh white?
Because the Japanese disregards reﬂection, placing
his solid tints one beside the other – characteristic lines
naively marking off movements or shapes.
In another category of ideas, when you compose
a colour motif expressing, for example, a yellow
evening sky –
The harsh, hard white of a white wall against the
sky can be expressed, at a pinch and in a strange way,
by harsh white and by that same white softened by
a neutral tone. Because the sky itself colours it with
a delicate lilac hue.
<Letter sketch a>
Again, in this very naive landscape, which is meant
to show us a hut, whitewashed overall (the roof, too),
situated in an orange ﬁeld, of course, because the sky
in the south and the blue Mediterranean produce an
orange that is all the more intense the higher in tint
the range of blues –
The black note of the door, of the window panes,
of the little cross on the rooftop, creates a simultaneous
contrast 5 of white and black
<Letter sketch b>
[a–b] Letter sketches: Cottage in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer ; Woman with a parasol (f –/jh– )
(Reduced to 75 percent of actual size)
4. See letter 609, n. 1 (Daudet, Tartarin
5. See letter 536, n. 18.
6. No obvious examples of the fabrics
described have been found.
just as pleasing to the eye as that of the blue with the
To take a more entertaining subject, let’s imagine
a woman dressed in a black and white checked dress,
in the same primitive landscape of a blue sky and an
orange earth – that would be quite amusing to see,
I imagine. In fact, in Arles they often do wear white
and black checks.6
In short, black and white are colours too, or rather,
in many cases may be considered colours, since their
simultaneous contrast is as sharp as that of green and
red, for example.
The Japanese use it too, by the way – they express
a young girl’s matt and pale complexion, and its sharp
contrast with her black hair wonderfully well with
white paper and 4 strokes of the pen. Not to mention
their black thorn-bushes, studded with a thousand
I’ve ﬁnally seen the Mediterranean, which you’ll
probably cross before me. Spent a week in SaintesMaries, and to get there crossed the Camargue in
a diligence, with vineyards, heaths, ﬁelds as ﬂat as
Holland. There, at Saintes-Maries, there were girls who
made one think of Cimabue and Giotto: slim, straight,
a little sad and mystical. On the completely ﬂat, sandy
beach, little green, red, blue boats, so pretty in shape
and colour that one thought of ﬂowers; one man boards
them, these boats hardly go on the high sea – they dash
off when there’s no wind and come back to land if
there’s a bit too much. It appears that Gauguin is still ill.
I’m quite curious to know what you’ve done lately; I’m
still doing landscapes, croquis enclosed [c–g].7 I’d very
much like to see Africa too, but I hardly make any ﬁrm
plans for the future, it will depend on circumstances.
What I’d like to know is the effect of a more intense
blue in the sky. Fromentin and Gérôme 8 see the earth
in the south as colourless, and a whole lot of people saw
it that way. My God, yes, if you take dry sand in your
hand and if you look at it closely. Water, too, air, too,
considered this way, are colourless. no blue without
yellow and without orange, and if you do blue, then
do yellow and orange as well, surely. Ah well, you’ll tell
me that I write you nothing but banalities. Handshake
[b] Letter sketch: Woman with a parasol (f –/jh– )
Colour notations, in the sky: ‘bleu’ (blue); on the ground: ‘orangé ’ (orange).
[a] Letter sketch: Cottage in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer (f –/jh –)
Arles, June 1888
Colour notations, in the sky, twice: ‘bleu’ (blue);
on the ground: ‘orange’ and ‘orangé’ (orange).
7. Done after the following paintings:
c after ill. 2; d after ill. 619.5; e after ill. 610.2;
f after ill. 609.1; and g after ill. 620.6.
Van Gogh also sent sketch h done after
8. Fromentin had painted in Algeria;
Gérôme in Turkey, Greece and Egypt.
 Van Gogh, Cottages in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer, 1888 (f 419/jh 1465)
[c] Enclosed sketch: Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer (f –/jh 1463)
Colour notations, in the sky: ‘Citron vert
pale’ (pale lemon green); on the roof of
the house in the left foreground: ‘bleu &
orangé’ (blue and orange); on the lower
edge of the house: ‘cobalt tres clair’ (very
light cobalt); on the side of the second
house: ‘chrome 2’; on the chimney and the
lower edge of the house: ‘blanc’ (white),
twice; on the roof: ‘violet’; on the side
of the third house: ‘chrome 2’; on the
house in the left background: ‘émeraude’
(emerald); on the front of the house
second from left in the background:
‘blanc’; on the roof of that house: ‘violet’;
on the third house in the background:
‘orangé’ and ‘chrome 3’; on the surface of
the street: ‘rose’ (pink); below the poppies
beside the street: ‘coquelicots rouge’ (red
poppies); on the vegetation on the right:
 Van Gogh, Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer, 1888 (f 420/jh 1462)
[g] Enclosed sketch: Fishing boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer (f –/jh 1461)
[d] Colour notations, on the sail
of the ﬁrst boat: ‘jaune’ (yellow);
on the sail of the second boat:
‘blanc’ (white); on the hull of the ﬁrst
boat: ‘vert’ (green); on the hull of
the second boat: ‘rouge’ (red); in the
water in front of these boats: ‘bleu’
(blue); a little lower down: ‘vert &
blanc’; on the shoreline: ‘blanc’; on
the beach: ‘vert & blanc rosé’ (green
and pinkish white); in the water in
front of the central boats: ‘violet vert’
[e] Colour notations, in the sky: ‘Bleu’
(blue); beside the leaves of the tree:
‘vert’ (green); beside the house in
the background: ‘orangé & jaune’
(orange and yellow); below that:
‘ciel bleu’ (blue sky); on the ground
in front of the house: ‘Vert’ (green);
in the foreground: ‘jaune & bleu’
(yellow and blue).
[f] Colour notations: ‘maison rose’
(pink house); below that: ‘ciel bleu’
(blue sky); on the right: ‘champ de
blé/vert’ (ﬁeld of wheat/green);
below that: ‘route bordé/d’arbres/
aux troncs violets’ (road lined/with
trees/with violet trunks).
Arles, June 1888
[d–f] Enclosed sketches: Fishing boats at sea; Landscape with the edge of a road; Farmhouse in a wheatﬁeld (f –/jh 1464)
Colour notations, in the background:
‘Citron vert pale’ (pale lemon
green); on the orange in the left
foreground: ‘mine orange’ (orange
lead); below the cup and saucer
on the left: ‘tasse bleu de roi/or &
blanc’ (royal blue/gold and white
cup); on the orange in the left
background: ‘chrome 3’; above the
milk jug on the left: ‘carrelé/bleu &
cobalt’ (blue and cobalt check); on
the tablecloth, centre foreground:
‘bleu myosotys’ (forget-me-not
blue); on the foremost of the three
lemons: ‘chrome/No 1’; on the two
other lemons: the numeral ‘1’ (for
‘chrome 1’); beside the coffee pot
in the middle: ‘émaillé/bleu’ (blue
enamel); on the edge of the saucer
on the right: ‘chrome 2’; beside the
cup on the right: ‘tasse blanche/
dessins bleu/orangé’ (white cup/
patterns blue/orange); beside the
jug on the right: ‘pot en majolique/
bleu à ﬂammes/brunes à ﬂeurs/
roses & vertes’ (blue majolica jug/
with wavy/brown decoration with/
pink and green ﬂowers).
[h] Enclosed sketch: Still life with coffee pot (f –/jh 1428)
Arles, Tuesday, 12 June 1888
To Theo van Gogh 623
My dear Theo,
He says that when sailors have to move a heavy load
or raise an anchor, in order to be able to lift a greater
weight, to be able to make an enormous effort, they
all sing together to support each other and to give each
other energy. That it’s just what artists lack. So I’d be
really surprised if he weren’t glad to come. But the
costs of the hotel 5 and the journey are made even more
complicated by the doctor’s bill, so it will be jolly hard.
But it seems to me that he should ditch the debt and
leave some paintings as security if he’s going to come
here, and if the people don’t agree to that, leave the
debt in the lurch without any paintings as security.
Wasn’t I forced to do the same thing in order to come
to Paris? 6 And although I suffered the loss of many
things then, it can’t be done otherwise in cases like
that, and it’s better to go forward anyway than to go
on being depressed.
I haven’t left for Saintes-Maries – they’ve ﬁnished
painting the house and I had to pay, and I also have
to buy quite a considerable supply of canvas.
And out of the ﬁfty francs I’ve got one louis 7 left
and we’re only Tuesday morning, and so it was hardly
possible for me to leave and I fear it won’t yet be
possible next week either.
I was pleased to learn that Mourier has come to
lodge with you.8
If Gauguin would prefer to take the risk of throwing
himself back into business at this point – if he really […]
1. Gauguin’s letter to Vincent and Theo’s to
Gauguin are not known.
2. See letter 621, n. 2.
3. Gauguin and Laval sailed together from
Saint-Nazaire to Panama on 10 April 1887,
and then in mid-May on to Martinique,
where they stayed until November.
4. Gauguin set out his plans – for an artists’
association funded by Albert Dauprat and
Henri Cottu, rich friends of Laval’s – in his
letter to Emile Schuffenecker (see letter 621,
n. 2); see Merlhès 1989, p. 70.
5. See letter 616, n. 1.
6. See letter 567, n. 3.
7. 20 francs.
8. Mourier-Petersen arrived at Theo’s
apartment in rue Lepic on 6 June 1888,
and stayed until about 15 August 1888.
On Monday morning I received your telegraphed
money order for 50 francs, for which I thank you
kindly. But I haven’t yet received your letter, which
surprised me a little.
I’ve received a letter from Gauguin, who said he’d
received a letter from you containing 50 francs, by
which he was very touched, and in which you said
a few words about the plan.1 As I had sent you my
letter to him, he hadn’t yet received the more clearcut proposal when he wrote.2
But he says that he has the experience that when
he was in Martinique with his friend Laval, the two
of them together managed better than either one of
them alone, and that he therefore fully agreed on the
advantages a life in common would have.3
He says the pains in his bowels are still continuing,
and he seems quite unhappy to me. He talks about
a hope he has of ﬁnding capital of six hundred
thousand francs to set up a dealer in Impressionist
paintings, and that he would explain his plan and that
he’d like you to be at the head of this business.4
I shouldn’t be surprised if that hope is a fata Morgana,
a mirage that goes with being broke. The more broke
you are – especially when you’re ill – the more you
think of such possibilities.
So I see ﬁrst and foremost in this plan yet another
proof that he’s despondent, and that the best thing
would be get him back on his feet as quickly as possible.
Gauguin coming to Arles (602)
Gauguin’s illness (581)
The plan to go back to Saintes-Mariesde-la-mer (621)
Request to Russell to buy a painting from
The proposed exchange with Russell (589)
Arles, on or about Wednesday, 21 November 1888
To Theo van Gogh (f)
My dear Theo,
Gauguin’s plan to return to the tropics (716)
Van Gogh’s ambition to show work
at the 1889 World Exhibition (590)
Thanks for your kind letter and for the 100-franc note
it contained. Am very happy that Gauguin’s success as
regards selling continues.1 If in a year’s time he could
have made enough to carry out his plan of going and
setting himself up in Martinique, I’d think that his
fortune would be made. Only, to my mind he shouldn’t
risk going back there before he has 5 thousand put aside,
according to him he would need 2,000. But then to my
mind he wouldn’t leave alone but with one other or
several others, and would found a lasting studio there.
Anyhow, a lot more water will ﬂow under the bridge
What you write about the Dutchmen interests me
greatly. I hope one day to get to know both of them
personally. How old are they? 2 I dare to believe that in
the ﬁnal reckoning they’ll feel their coming to France
was a good thing.
The trouble they’re having with colour – my
goodness – that doesn’t surprise me. May De Haan
never lose touch with the serious study of Rembrandt,
to which the two drawings of his that I’m currently
looking at testify!3
Have they read Silvestre’s book on E. Delacroix,4
and the article on colour in C. Blanc’s Grammaire des
arts du dessin?5
So ask them that on my behalf, and if they haven’t
read it they should. As for me, I think more about
Rembrandt than may appear from my studies.
Arles, November 1888
<Letter sketch a>
Here’s a croquis of the latest canvas I’m working on,
another sower. Immense lemon yellow disc for the
sun. Green-yellow sky with pink clouds. The ﬁeld is
violet, the sower and the tree Prussian Blue. No. 30
Let’s calmly wait to exhibit until I have around thirty
no. 30 canvases.
Then we’ll exhibit them once in your apartment for the
friends, and not exerting any pressure even then.
And let’s not do anything else.
There are lots of reasons for not stirring now. Besides,
it won’t take long, I think I’ll be able to send it to you
at the time of the exhibition or a little later. In the
meantime it will dry thoroughly here, and I can go over
all the canvases again once they’re thoroughly dry, even
the impasted areas.
If at the age of forty I do a painting of ﬁgures or
portraits the way I feel it, I think that will be worth
more than a more or less serious success now.
Have you seen the studies that Bernard brought back
from Brittany? Gauguin has told me many things about
them. He himself has one which is simply masterly .
I think that buying one from him, from Bernard,
would be doing him a service, and that he really
[a] Letter sketch: Sower with setting sun (f – /jh 1628)
 Van Gogh, Sower with setting sun, 1888 (f 450/jh 1627)
1. Theo had sold three canvases by
Gauguin in November, and he sold a
fourth at the beginning of December.
See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, p. 280,
and Wildenstein 2001, pp. 284, 384–385.
2. De Haan was 36 years old, Isaäcson 29.
3. See letter 708.
4. See letter 526, n. 2.
5. See Blanc, Grammaire des arts du dessin,
pp. 22–26 (chapter 5, ‘Principes’), 601–617
(chapter 13, ‘Peinture’).
Only we mustn’t forget that either at New Year or
in March, Gauguin will have to be repaid the money
he may have laid out, for example for sheets or things
that would remain in the studio.
For on both sides I think we’ll ﬁnd it best to
change nothing, absolutely nothing, in the ﬁnancial
arrangement we’ve established.6 If at the end of a year
we continue to ﬁnd it satisfactory, time will tell.
Gauguin’s working on a very beautiful painting of
washerwomen [2–3],7 and also a big still life of an orange
pumpkin and some apples and white linen on a yellow
background and foreground.8
The weather here is cold, but we see some really
beautiful things all the same. Such as yesterday
evening, a sickly lemon yellow sunset, mysterious,
of extraordinary beauty – Prussian blue cypresses,
trees with dead leaves in every broken tone against
that, not half bad.
You couldn’t imagine how pleased I am that you
have painters with you and aren’t staying alone in the
apartment, just as I too am very pleased to have such
good company as Gauguin’s.
More soon, and thanks once again for your kind
What do De Haan and Isaäcson say about Monticelli?
Have they seen any of his paintings other than the
ones at your place? 9 You know that I still lay claim to
continuing the job that Monticelli began here.10
Arles, November 1888
 Bernard, Breton women
in the meadow, 1888 (712.1)
 Gauguin, Washerwomen on the bank of a canal, 1888
 Gauguin, Washerwomen, 1888
6. See letter 717, n. 6.
7. One of the two paintings of
washerwomen Gauguin made during this
period, ill. 2 or ill. 3.
8. This lost still life is most likely depicted in
part in Van Gogh’s Portrait of Paul Gauguin
(Man in a red beret) (f 5 46/jh–).
9. See letter 578, n. 4.
10. See letters 689 and 702.
Arles, Monday, 28 January 1889
To Theo van Gogh 743
My dear Theo,
Just a few words to tell you that I’m getting along so-so
as regards my health and work.
Which I already ﬁnd astonishing when I compare my
state today with that of a month ago. I well knew that
one could break one’s arms and legs before, and that
then afterwards that could get better but I didn’t know
that one could break one’s brain and that afterwards
that got better too.
I still have a certain ‘what’s the good of getting better’
feeling in the astonishment that an ongoing recovery
causes me, which I wasn’t in a state to dare rely upon.
When you visited I think you must have noticed
in Gauguin’s room the two no. 30 canvases of the
sunﬂowers [5–6]. I’ve just put the ﬁnishing touches to
the absolutely equivalent and identical repetitions [3–4].
I think I’ve already told you that in addition I have a
canvas of a Berceuse, the very same one I was working
on when my illness came and interrupted me . Today
I also have 2 versions of this one .
On the subject of that canvas, I’ve just said to
Gauguin that as he and I talked about the Icelandic
ﬁshermen and their melancholy isolation, exposed
to all the dangers, alone on the sad sea, I’ve just said
to Gauguin about it that, following these intimate
conversations, the idea came to me to paint such
a picture that sailors, at once children and martyrs,
Vincent’s first crisis and hospitalization (728)
Theo’s journey to Arles (728)
Theo’s engagement and marriage
to Jo Bonger (728)
Gauguin’s plan to return to the tropics (716)
 Van Gogh, Augustine
Roulin (‘La berceuse’), 1889
 Van Gogh, Augustine Roulin (‘La berceuse’), 1889 (f 506/jh 1670)
Arles, January 1889
 Van Gogh, Sunﬂowers in a vase, 1889 (f 458/jh 1667)
 Van Gogh, Sunﬂowers
in a vase, 1888 (668.5)
 Van Gogh, Sunﬂowers
in a vase, 1888 (666.3)
 Van Gogh, Sunﬂowers in a vase, 1889 (f 455/jh 1668)
Arles, January 1889
seeing it in the cabin of a boat of Icelandic ﬁshermen,
would experience a feeling of being rocked, reminding
them of their own lullabies.1 Now it looks, you could
say, like a chromolithograph from a penny bazaar.
A woman dressed in green with orange hair stands out
against a green background with pink ﬂowers. Now
these discordant sharps of garish pink, garish orange,
garish green, are toned down by ﬂats of reds and
greens. I can imagine these canvases precisely between
those of the sunﬂowers – which thus form standard
lamps or candelabra at the sides, of the same size; and
thus the whole is composed of 7 or 9 canvases.2
(I’d like to make another repetition for Holland
if I can get the model again.)
As it’s still winter, listen. Let me quietly continue
my work, if it’s that of a madman, well, too bad.
Then I can’t do anything about it.
However, the unbearable hallucinations have stopped
for now, reducing themselves to a simple nightmare on
account of taking potassium bromide, I think.
It’s still impossible for me to deal with this question
of money 3 in detail, but I want to deal with it in
detail all the same, and I’m working furiously from
morning till night to prove to you (unless my work is
yet another hallucination), to prove to you that really,
truly, we’re following in Monticelli’s track here and,
what’s more, that we have a light on our way and a
lamp before our feet 4 in the powerful work of Bruyas
of Montpellier, who has done so much to create a
school in the south.5
Only don’t be absolutely too amazed if, in the course
of the coming month, I would be obliged to ask you for
the month in full, and even the relative extra included.
After all, it’s only right if in these productive
times when I expend all my vital warmth I should
insist on what is necessary to take a few precautions.
The diVerence in expenditure is certainly not excessive
on my part, not even in cases like that. And once
again, either lock me up in a madhouse straightaway,
I won’t resist if I’m wrong, or let me work with all
my strength, while taking the precautions I mention.
If I’m not mad the time will come when I’ll send
you what I’ve promised you from the beginning.
Now, these paintings may perhaps be fated for
dispersal, but when you, for one, see the whole
of what I want, you will, I dare hope, receive a
consolatory impression from it.
You saw, as I did, a part of the Faure collection
ﬁle past in the little window of a framer’s shop in rue
Laﬁtte,6 didn’t you? You saw, as I did, that this slow
procession of canvases that were previously despised
was strangely interesting.
Good. My great desire would be that sooner or later
you should have a series of canvases from me that could
also ﬁle past in that exact same shop window.
Now, in continuing the furious work this February
and March I hope I’ll have ﬁnished the calm repetitions
of a number of studies I did last year. And these,
together with certain canvases of mine that you already
have, such as the harvest  and the white orchard ,
will form quite a ﬁrm base. During this same time,
so no later than March, we can settle what has to be
settled on the occasion of your marriage.
But although I’ll work during February and March,
I’ll consider myself to be still ill, and I tell you in
advance that in these two months I may have to take
250 a month from the year’s allowance.
You’ll perhaps understand that what would reassure
me in some way regarding my illness and the possibility
of a relapse would be to see that Gauguin and I didn’t
exhaust our brains for nothing at least, but that good
canvases result from it. And I dare hope that one
day you’ll see that in remaining upright and calm
now, precisely on the question of money – it will be
impossible later on to have acted badly towards the
Goupils. If indirectly I’ve eaten some of their bread,
certainly through you as an intermediary –
Directly I will then retain my integrity.7
So, far from still remaining awkward with each other
almost all the time because of that, we can feel like
brothers again after that has been sorted out.You’ll
have been poor all the time to feed me, but I’ll return
the money or turn up my toes.
Now your wife will come, who has a good heart, to
make us old fellows feel a bit younger again.
But this I believe, that you and I will have successors
in business, and that precisely at the moment when the
family abandoned us to our own resources, ﬁnancially
speaking, it will again be we who haven’t ﬂinched.8
My word, may the crisis come after that… Am
I wrong about that, then?
Come on, as long as the present earth lasts there will
be artists and picture dealers, especially those who are
apostles at the same time, like you. And if ever we’re
comfortably oV, even while perhaps being old Jewish
smokers, at least we’ll have worked by forging straight
ahead and won’t have forgotten the things of the heart
that much, even though we have calculated a little.
What I tell you is true: if it isn’t absolutely necessary
to shut me away in a madhouse then I’m still good
for paying what I can be considered to owe, at least in
Then, my dear brother, we have 89. The whole of
France shivered at it and so did we old Dutchmen,
with the same heart.
Beware of 93, you may perhaps tell me.9
Alas there’s some truth in that, and that being the
case let’s stay with the paintings.
In conclusion I must also tell you that the chief
inspector of police came yesterday to see me, in a very
friendly way.10 He told me as he shook my hand that if
 Van Gogh, The harvest, 1888
 Van Gogh, The white orchard,
 Puvis de Chavannes, Hope,
c. 1872 (611.3)
1. See letter 739, n. 4.
2. Van Gogh now had two Berceuses and
four sunflowers, to form two triptychs:
one for Theo and one for Gauguin. He was
considering a third Berceuse for Holland
(painted shortly after; see letter 745),
possibly followed by two more canvases of
sunflowers, to produce a third triptych.
3. See letter 736, n. 1.
4. Cf. Ps. 119:105.
5. See letter 726, n. 1 (Bruyas).
6. Jean Baptiste Faure’s collection of
Impressionist paintings included work by
Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Degas.
The framer’s shop is unidentiﬁed.
7. See letter 721.
8. Van Gogh added ‘precisely at the moment
when’ later, and after ‘when’ he crossed out
‘our uncle’, meaning Uncle Cor and/or Uncle
Vincent – who had refused in 1886 to give
Theo financial support; see letter 568, n. 2.
9. The Jacobin Reign of Terror in 1793.
10. The chief of police Joseph d’Ornano
ﬁled his report on 27 February 1889 (see
letter 750, n. 4).