Painted just before he leaves the asylum at Saint Paul de Mausole in Saint Remy and Provence for Auvers sur Oise, just outside of Paris.
My dear brother,
Today, as Mr Peyron had come back, I read your kind letters, then the letters from home as well, and that did me an enormous amount of good in giving me back a little energy, or rather the desire to climb back up again from the dejected state I’m in. I thank you very much for the etchings1 – you’ve chosen some of the very ones that I’ve already liked for a long time, the David,2 the Lazarus,3 the Samaritan,4 and the large etching of the wounded man,5 and you’ve added the blind man6 and the other very small etching, the last one so mysterious that I’m afraid of it and dare not wish to know what it is. I didn’t know it, the little goldsmith.7 But the Lazarus! Early this morning I looked at it and I remembered not only what Charles Blanc says of it, but indeed even that he doesn’t say everything about it.8
The unfortunate thing is that the people here are too curious, idle and ignorant about painting for it to be possible for me to practise my profession. This is what one could always observe, that you and I made an effort here in the same direction as some others who weren’t understood either, and were bitterly saddened by circumstances.9 1v:2
If ever you go to Montpellier you would see that what I tell you here is true.10
Now, rather, you propose coming back to the north, and I accept.
I’ve had too hard a life to kick the bucket as a result, or to lose the power to work.
So Gauguin and Guillaumin, the two of them, want to do an exchange for the landscape of the Alpilles.11 Besides, there are two of them, only I think that the one finished last, which I’ve just sent, is done with more determination and is more accurate in expression.12
I’m perhaps going to try to work from the Rembrandts, above all I have an idea to do the man at prayer13 in the range of tones running from bright yellow to violet.
Included is Gauguin’s letter,14 do what you think best as regards the exchange, take the ones you like for yourself; I’m sure that our taste is increasingly becoming the same.
Ah, if I’d been able to work without this bloody illness! How many things I could have done, isolated from the others, according to what the land would tell me. But yes – this journey is well and truly finished. Anyway, what consoles me is the great, the very great desire that I have to see you again, you, your wife and your child, 1v:3 and so many friends who have remembered me in my misfortune, as, for that matter, I don’t stop thinking of them either.
I’m almost sure that I’ll soon get better in the north, at least for quite a long time, while still apprehensive of a relapse in a few years’ time – but not immediately. That’s what I imagine after having observed the other patients here, some of whom are considerably older than I am or, among the young ones, were more or less idlers – students. Anyway, what do we know about it?
Fortunately the letters from our sister and mother were very calm. Our sister writes very well, and describes a landscape or an aspect of the town as if it were a page from a modern novel. I always urge her to busy herself with domestic rather than artistic things, for I know that she’s already too sensitive, and at her age would have difficulty in finding the way to artistic development. I’m really afraid that she too will suffer from a thwarted artistic will. But she’s so energetic that she’ll make up for it. I talked with Mr Peyron about the situation, and told him that it was almost impossible for me to bear my fate here, that not 1r:4 knowing anything very clear regarding the line to take, it seemed preferable to me to return to the north.
If you think this is a good idea, and if you suggest a date when you expect me over there in Paris, I would have someone from here accompany me part of the way, as far as Tarascon or Lyon. Then you would wait for me, or have someone wait for me, at the station in Paris. Do what seems best to you. For the time being I would leave my furniture behind in Arles. It’s with friends,15 and I’m sure they’d send it the day I wanted it. But the carriage and packing would be almost what it’s worth. I consider this as a shipwreck, this journey, well, one can’t do as one wants, and as one ought to either. Once I got out a little into the park I recovered all my clarity for work, I have more ideas in my head than I could ever put into action, but without it dazzling me. The brushstrokes go like a machine. So based on that I dare believe that in the north I would rediscover my confidence once freed from surroundings and circumstances which I neither understand nor wish to understand. It was very kind of Mr Peyron to write to you, he’s writing to you again today,16 I leave him regretting that I have to leave him. Good handshake to you and to Jo, I thank her very much for her letter.17
To Theo. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Thursday, 1 May 1890
The etchings you sent me3 are really beautiful. Opposite this I’ve scribbled a croquis after a painting I’ve done of three figures which are in the background of the Lazarus etching.4
The dead man and his two sisters. The cave and the corpse are violet, yellow, white. The woman who is taking the handkerchief from the resurrected man’s face has a green dress and orange hair, the other has black hair and a striped garment. Green and pink. Behind a countryside, blue hills, a yellow rising sun. The combination of colours would thus itself speak of the same thing expressed by the chiaroscuro of the etching. 2v:4
If I were still to have at my disposal the model who posed for the Berceuse5 and the other whose portrait you’ve just received after Gauguin’s drawing,6 then certainly I’d try to execute it in a large size, this canvas, the personalities being what I would have dreamed of as characters. But leaving aside subjects of this kind, there will still remain the study from life of peasants and landscapes when I’m back in the north.
As regards the order for colours.7 Should I remain here for another few days, please send off part of it at once. If, however, I leave in the next few days – which I hope – you can keep it in Paris.
In any event, write to me in the next few days; I hope that you’ll have received the canvases in good order. I’ve done another one of a nook of greenery which seems to me to have some freshness.8 I’ve also attempted a copy of Delacroix’s Good Samaritan.9 I think from a note in Le Figaro that père Quost must have a darned good painting in the Salon.10
Warm regards to your wife, I’m very much looking forward to making her acquaintance at last, and good handshake in thought.