In chronological order below are fragments and complete letters with relevant information from the correspondence of members of Van Gogh’s family and people who knew him which could not be associated directly with any of the letters in this edition. They are nevertheless so germane in the context of Van Gogh’s correspondence that they are being printed separately here. Letters by others that were sometimes written on Van Gogh’s notepaper or were enclosed with a letter of his are also included. Unless otherwise stated, the original documents are preserved in the Van Gogh Museum (abbreviated as FR, for Family Records). We have added punctuation and accents without drawing attention to these changes.
20 March 1852
Note written by Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus, 20 March 1852. She is awaiting the birth of her first child, Vincent van Gogh, who was stillborn on 30 March (VGM, Documentation BD 69). There is no other mention of this child in the entire family archive.
‘We spent three pleasant weeks with Mother Carbentus, who in that time enabled us to prepare for the impending arrival of a small member of the household for which God had given us hope. Returning to our own home another pleasure awaited us. Equipped for the winter we pass many an evening full of pleasure, each going about our work, and were happy above all too in the thought of the increase of our domestic blessings ... and now we await the arrival of our little child together, and now I put down my pen, and may my Friend, as we hope, write about the birth of our little child.’
2 January 1874
Letter from Anna van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, written in English. Leeuwarden, Tuesday 6 January 1874 (FR b2679). It contains some phrases in Dutch from a letter by Vincent to Anna, that must have been written on or about Friday 2 January 1874.
‘Monday morning at breakfast I found a letter from London, which contained a letter from Vincent and one from Ursula Loyer, both were very kind and amiable. She asks me to write her and Vincent wished very much we should be friends. I’ll tell what he writes about her. “Ursula Loyer is a girl with whom I have agreed that we’ll be each other’s brother and sister. You must also look on her as a sister and write to her, and I think that you will then soon discover what she is. I say no more than that I have never seen or dreamt of anything like the love between her and her mother.”
Then there follows a discription of Christmas and New-year and then still the following phrase. “Old girl, you mustn’t think that there’s anything more behind it than what I have written to you. But don’t say anything about it at home, I must do that myself. Just this again, love that girl for my sake.” I suppose there will be a love between those two, as between Agnes and David Copperfield. Although I must say, that I believe there is more than a brother’s love between them; I send you here Ursula’s letter so you can judge for yourself.’
8 April 1877
Theodorus van Gogh to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 8 April 1877.
The Reverend Van Gogh added the following to Vincent’s letter 110 (FR b109).
It was dutiful of you to write to us. Stay well, my dear chap, and just take an interest in life, for our sakes too. Oh, we can make things so pleasant for each other. Is that not in itself a great goal in life? Theo, what do you think of Vincent surprising us again? He must take care. The key was that of the churchyard – thank you for it. Warm regards from Ma and from everyone. Lies has to leave tomorrow.
Ever your loving father
30 December 1877
Elisabeth van Gogh to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 30 December 1877.
She added this note to Vincent’s letter 138 (FR b136).
‘My dear brother,
I wish you a happy new year and all the very best. We are all very curious about the decision of the High Court in the Goupil case, and all hope that they will be favourable towards you in every respect. How delightful it was to be together with you again, but all the same it’s a pity about that was, isn’t it? Now I’m again looking forward to Easter, and that will be your bright spot too. What do you have to say about that preaching. How about that? The Rev. Kuylman doesn’t realize by half how foolish it was of him to hurt his arm at such an inconvenient time. And now adieu. I must leave some space for Wil. So I end in haste. Ever
Your loving Lies’
30 December 1877
Willemien van Gogh to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 30 December 1877.
She added this note to Vincent’s letter 138 (FR b136).
Warm wishes for a happy new year. Lies says that I must write that she wrote my dear brother by accident. We have to go to bed, goodnight, a pleasant day.
Your so loving
7 June 1878
Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 7 June 1878 (FR b980).
‘Oh Theo, we’re so upset about Vincent, it was dutiful of you to write to us like that, he is determined to become a catechist, but that will take 2 years of study. Cannot then stay in Amsterdam, and even if he becomes one, nowadays with all that scrabbling along, a very uncertain position and very poorly paid. Pa has also written him a firm letter saying that he must continue with his lessons for 3 more months to acquire a better understanding and to give him peace and quiet for reflection. Pa also wrote to Belgium and a reply just came as I got to this point. In Belgium there is a lot of work and few workers, dutiful, clever people would certainly find a place there, even without examinations. Who knows if the light might not come from there, but I am always so worried that wherever Vincent goes and whatever he does he will cut it short everywhere as a result of his odd nature and peculiar ideas and views about life. Now, we must not fret, our dear Lord knows our cares and supports and strengthens, even through the letter from Mr V.d. Brink, who asked especially to convey his regards.’
7 June 1878
Theodorus van Gogh to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 7 June 1878 (FR b981).
‘How dutiful it was of you to write about that worry concerning Vincent, it was very good of you, for there was a great deal going around in our heads and hearts, and it still is really. So we do not yet know where this crisis will lead. Because I did not wish him to be over-hasty I have said that for the time being he must continue with his lessons for three months and that in the meantime I would ponder the matter. In the meantime I wrote to the Rev. V.d. Brink, who is now the minister in Roeselare in West Flanders and thus in Belgium, whether he could be of use in that country. He thinks that it is not impossible. Or at least a place as an evangelist might fall vacant where knowledge of English and French would be a recommendation. He will keep me apprised and will help. So perhaps we shall hazard this one trial, but everything is still uncertain. It is a matter that affects us oh so much, but let us not lose heart. You have always said: who knows that he will not battle through and land on his feet. God grant it.’
23 June 1878
Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 23 June 1878 (FR b982).
‘Vincent admits that he is happy that it has come to this, and faces the future with more courage than when he was hopelessly devoting himself to his studies. Pa has had a reply from Mr Van den Brink that there will be a meeting soon at which the matter of V. will be discussed and that he will then send a reply. Vincent will continue his studies until the end of the month. He has asked Mr Jones for a reference and has received a very satisfactory one. He and we are of course happy about that, and now we must just wait. That is sometimes easier than at other times. He writes many letters, long ones too, and when reading them one is inclined to say: how can a simple clergyman come out of this, and then again there is nevertheless something good in them as well. God grant that his common sense gain the upper hand and that good opinions may prepare him and that he get his wish.’
8 July 1878
Theodorus van Gogh to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 8 July 1878 (FR b984).
‘Vincent came home last Friday evening. He has written to Belgium and wishes to go there to speak to his interests, but so far no reply. I wrote again to the Rev. Pietersen to commend his case, and we are now awaiting a reply to that. In the meantime, there is still a great deal to be arranged, but God grant that a path opens up for him ...
Yesterday evening I received another letter from the Rev. Pietersen. He seems to be taking an interest in the matter. The Rev. Herbst, he writes, is away and in Germany. Pietersen was to go to Brussels yesterday to discuss the matter, and next week he will invite us to come over for a day. May there be some prospect!’
Finally, Mrs van Gogh writes in the same letter: ‘How will things go with Vincent? Well, God grant! I do have some hope that it could lead to something in Belgium, but will he be up to it and persevere? We must wait and hope.’
5 December 1878
The original of this letter of recommendation is in the Archives synodales de l’église protestante Unie de Belgique, 5 Rue du Champs de Mars, 1050 Brussels. See also Lutjeharms 1978, p. 107; there is a Dutch translation in Hulsker 1985, p. 127.
‘Etten, near Breda, 5 Dec. 1878
to Mr Péron,
Protestant minister at Dour
Having received a letter from my son Vincent, who wrote to me that he had approached you, asking for work and at the same time told me that you, Sir, wished to have information about him from me, his father, I hasten to satisfy your request by saying:
That it was indeed my son, who has been in Belgium for three months, looking for a position as an evangelist, who came to see you in the hope that you might be able to give him the benefit of your wisdom and some advice and information, which he needs.
That not only for the 3 months that he has spent in Belgium, but for a very long time in addition, for several years, he has been making efforts to find an opportunity to work for the Gospel. That he has found it far from easy, but that despite the difficulties he has encountered, he has persevered, and at this point is still of good courage, and he has no intention of giving up his vocation, as he calls it, to work as an evangelist.
That for 3 months he has stayed in Brussels at my expense in the home of Mr Plugge (6, chemin de Halage, Laeken) since (on the first visit that he and I made to Brussels) Mr Pietersen, a minister in Malines, and also Mr de Jonge, a minister in Brussels, wished to make his acquaintance.
Now, three months having passed – almost penniless – through his own fault – since he obstinately refuses to receive money from me or to be supported by me, knowing that I am far from being wealthy, he has gone in person to the place where he hoped to find work, and it was because of that that he came to see you.
I end this letter, Sir, by recommending him to you, and I assure you that he has not failed to show that he is zealous and seriously wishes to work for the Gospel within the limits of his strength.
That God may grant that he may find among you also the means to earn his daily bread through active work honestly performed.
His path is hard, the obstacles that he will yet have to overcome are great, but they do not frighten him at all.
So, Sir, permit me to recommend him to you, as I also commend him to God, his and our Heavenly Father in Jesus Christ.
With my fraternal good wishes,
Protestant Minister at Etten
20 December 1878
Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 20 December 1878 (FR b2450).
‘We wrote to Vincent, you don’t yet know about the letter received this week. He has made the acquaintance of many there who ask him to speak or where he offers to do so. There was one place that he thought was vacant, may he give satisfaction and have a chance to obtain it! He wrote that he was very satisfied, no one suffered from the cold there, the coal was quite easily had, which is a great reassurance.’
28 August 1881
Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus to Theo van Gogh. Etten, 28 August 1881.
She added this letter to Vincent’s letter 171 (FR b169). In it she reports the death of Jonkheer Joan de Jonge van Zwijnsbergen (1821-1881) on 26 August 1881 at 3.30 in the afternoon. He was buried on Tuesday 30 August.
‘That would be a little too harsh for us, for Vincent to send his letter off without us even saying good-day. Have you been well? We hope so, since Uncle Cent received a letter from you this week, and fortunately Uncle said nothing more about indisposition. In the meantime, will you receive our letter and, as we believe, good advice and, we hope, follow it? It is already so autumnal with that rain, a demi-saison is such a wonderful garment, useful and natty, and it comes in handy now. We had a pleasant week in Princenhage. Uncle is very well, but we were disturbed by the news of the worrying state of Mr De Jonge. Pa asked if he should come and the answer was “Please do”. Pa arrived Friday morning, went there immediately, and was there and supported Mr De Jonge body and soul at his death. That was fortunate, and was a great satisfaction for Pa. Pa will also be going to the funeral on Tuesday, it is fortunate that the man is out of his suffering, but it does move one. Pa came to Uncle and Aunt’s house on Saturday, and we had a lovely day in the Liesbos. So joys and sorrows ensured that Pa much enjoyed the outing. Vincent arrived on Friday afternoon, and you see that fortunately he had made a great success of his trip, which gave us great pleasure, and for the rest we hope for the best. Good news from Anna and Jo. And their little Sara, they write that they are in high spirits. We haven’t yet had any firm news as to whether Lies will come on Wednesday but think she will, and then she will stay until a week on Saturday for my birthday, which we hope will be nice with her at home. If only you could be there again, but we would have no complaints about you were it to be more often, and then a day longer for once. It is getting a bit busier, or doesn’t that start until September?
Pa has gone to De Hoeve, I’m going out part of the way to meet him, the weather’s glorious now. Cor still in Baarn, tomorrow to Helvoirt, and Wednesday here. It has been lovely for him. This is just a good-day word and a kiss from your loving Ma.
Pa asks to convey his warm regards. Came back so tired from De Hoeve due to a boot pinching. So wish you all the best.’
17 March 1886
Andries Bonger to Hendrik Christiaan Bonger and Hermine Louise Bonger-Weissman. Paris, 17 March 1886 (FR b1838).
12 April 1886
Andries Bonger to Hendrik Christiaan Bonger and Hermine Louise Bonger-Weissman. Paris, 12 April 1886 (FR b1841).
‘Theo’s brother is here for good, he’s staying for at least three years to work in the studio of the painter Cormon. I believe I told you last summer what a solitary life the brother has lived. He doesn’t have any social graces at all. He rows with everyone. So Theo has a great deal to put up with because of him.’
23 June 1886
Andries Bonger to Hendrik Christiaan Bonger and Hermine Louise Bonger-Weissman. Paris, 23 June 1886 (FR b1843).
‘Have I already told you that Van Gogh has moved to Montmartre. They now have a large, spacious apartment (by Parisian standards, anyway) and their own household. They now have an excellent kitchen-maid. Theo still looks terrible; he looks awfully haggard. The poor fellow has a lot of worries. On top of that, his brother is still making life difficult for him, and accuses him of all sorts of things of which he’s completely blameless.’
Theo van Gogh to Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus. Paris, June-July 1886 (FR b942).
‘Fortunately we’re doing well in our new home. You would no longer recognize Vincent, he has changed so much, and that strikes others even more than me. He has had a major operation on his mouth, for he had lost almost all his teeth because of the poor state of his stomach. The doctor says that he is now completely recovered. He is making tremendous progress with his work, and proof of that is that he is starting to make a success of it. He hasn’t yet sold any paintings for money, but exchanges his work for other paintings. In this way we’re building up a fine collection, which is also worth something of course. There is a picture dealer who has already taken four of his paintings in this way and has promised to hold an exhibition of his work next year. He is painting flowers mostly, mainly in order to make his next paintings more colourful. He is also much more cheerful than before, and he goes down well with the people here. To give you an example, hardly a day passes without him being invited to visit the studios of painters of repute, or people come to him. He also has acquaintances from whom he receives a beautiful delivery of flowers every week which can serve him as a model. If we can keep this up then I think that his difficult period will be behind him and that he will go on to find his feet.’
26 August 1886
‘[Theo] said so many good things about Vincent, the eldest, who lives with him. His paintings are getting so much better and he is beginning to exchange them for ones by other painters, that’s how it must gradually come about. According to Theo he will definitely become someone of repute. We are under no illusions, though, but are nevertheless deeply grateful that he’s having some success. You have no idea what a difficult life he has had, and who knows what he will still have to contend with?’
11 September 1886
Art dealer Joseph Baillarguet. Paris, 11 September 1886 (FR b1212).
‘Sold to Mr Vincent, an old painting and a drawing. Price 50 francs. Received Baillarguet Paris 11 September 1886’.
31 December 1886
Andries Bonger to Hendrik Christiaan Bonger and Hermine Louise Bonger-Weissman. Paris, 31 December 1886 (FR b1867).
‘I’ve had little time to read because of Van Gogh’s indisposition. He has had severe fits of nerves, so much so that he was quite unable to move. Yesterday I was astonished to find him entirely back to normal; he still felt stiff, as if he had fallen over, but otherwise no after-effects. He will now finally start to look after his health. He needs to. He has now decided to part from Vincent; living together is not possible. As I said, you must say nothing to Mrs [Van Gogh], should you see her, she knows nothing.’
18 February 1887
11 March 1887
Theo van Gogh to Cor van Gogh. Paris, 11 March 1887 (FR b907).
‘Vincent continues to study, and he works with talent. It’s just a pity that his character gets in his way so much, because it’s absolutely impossible to get on with him in the long run. He was certainly troublesome when he came here last year, but one could see some improvement, I thought. But now he’s back to his old self again, and it’s impossible to reason with him. This doesn’t make it pleasant for me at home, and I’m hoping for a change. That will undoubtedly happen, but it’s a pity for him, because if we had worked on this together it would have been better for both of us.’
14 March 1887
Theo van Gogh to Willemien van Gogh. Paris, 14 March 1887 (FR b908).
‘It’s such a strange situation here. Were he someone in a different line of business I would have done what you advise long ago, and I’ve often asked myself whether it wasn’t perhaps wrong to help him all the time, and I’ve often been on the point of letting him muddle along on his own. I thought about it seriously again after getting your letter, and I believe that in the given situation I can’t do anything other than carry on. It’s absolutely certain that he is an artist, and what he’s making now may sometimes not be beautiful but will definitely stand him in good stead later, and then it may be sublime, and it would be disgraceful to keep him from his regular study. However unpractical he may be, if he will just be skilful there will definitely come a day when he starts to sell. Nor should you think that the money business weighs the heaviest on me. It’s above all the idea that we have so little affection for each other any more. There was a time when I loved Vincent very much and he was my best friend, but that’s over now. It seems to be even worse as far as he is concerned, for he loses no opportunity to let me see that he despises me and that I inspire aversion in him. This makes it almost intolerable for me at home. No one wants to come by any more because it always leads to rows, and he’s so filthy and slovenly that the household looks anything but inviting. What I just hope is that he’ll go and live on his own, he’s spoken about that for a long time, because if I told him that he had to go it would be the very reason for him to stay. Since I can’t do any good for him I ask just one thing, and that is that he do me no harm and he does that by staying, because it's heavy going. It's as if there are two people in him, the one marvellously gifted, sensitive and gentle, and the other self-loving and unfeeling. They appear by turn, so that first one hears one way of reasoning and then the other, and always with arguments both for and against. It’s a pity that he’s his own enemy, because he doesn’t just make life difficult for others but for himself as well. I’ve decided to carry on as I’ve been doing up until now, but I hope that he’ll change homes somehow, and I’ll do my best to bring it about. Now little sister, you’ll say: what a moanful letter. Don’t talk about it much.’
22 March 1887
Theo van Gogh to Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus. Paris, 22 March 1887 (FR b909).
‘As you asked, I have spoken to Vincent about his things that are still in Nuenen. He says that you can do with the furniture as you please, but he is particularly attached to his collection of wood engravings, which would certainly be of no value to anyone in Nuenen and which he has put together with difficulty. There are also studies of his own that he would prefer to keep. If it were possible to pay off what he owes with the things he has left behind, and if there was enough left over to make a chest for the prints and studies and to pay the freight costs, even if it was only to Breda, that would certainly be a good arrangement. If I then come to you I can pick out what can be sent on to here. I hope this won’t cause you too much trouble and that you can cover the expenses with what there is.’
19 April 1887
Theo van Gogh to Elisabeth van Gogh. Paris, 19 April 1887 (FR b910).
‘It’s a long time since you had a letter from me, but if you knew how life is here and the kind of situations I’ve been through this winter it wouldn’t surprise you that there was no desire to repeat everything that had been going on. It’s better to keep silent about it, because it wasn’t heartening for others. What I do constantly reproach myself for is that I’m not involved enough with all of you, and I’m sorry above all that I naturally didn’t hear much from you all. But again, life is so different here, and there’s so much agitation and fighting that it would certainly not have been a good idea to disturb your tranquil life. However, I long so much to hear something from you again that I could delay no longer. However, do not think if I don’t go into particulars that all the fault lies with others. No, the main thing was that I’ve been ill, particularly in my spirit, and have had a great struggle with myself. I now feel much stronger again and hope that I’m back on my feet again. Life here is above all so lonely. There’s no family life, and so mixing with others is no more than with a few acquaintances and beyond that with people in the line of business. Can you understand that it’s sometimes difficult never to mix with anyone other than men who talk about business, with artists who are generally having a difficult time themselves, but never to know the intimate life with wife or children of the same class? You can hardly imagine the great loneliness there can be in a big city. Now, you will say: have you no hope, then, that that will change? Yes, but in the meantime it’s rough. Perhaps you can’t understand how it is that there are no folk with whom I mix, but remember that people here are busy from morning till night, and then don’t feel that the day is long enough to do what has to be done, and then I dislike mixing with just anyone and find it absurd to say that people turn out better than expected after a while and that everyone has his good qualities. I find that one very quickly discovers the kind of a person that one is dealing with, and that as a rule mixing with mediocrities doesn’t lead anywhere. There’s an enormous difference between that and being a misanthrope, because I find that on the contrary there are people whom I love very much and who are so good and special that I feel myself so small compared to them that I have difficulty mixing with them and above all to take the first step to becoming intimate with them. I don’t remember when I last wrote to you and whether I’ve already told you my secret. To come straight to the point, if you don’t know. I plan to propose to Jo Bonger some time. It’s true that I don’t know her well enough to be able to tell you much about her. As you know, I’ve only seen her a few times, but what I know of her pleases me. She gave me the impression that I can place my trust in her completely unreservedly, as I wouldn’t with anyone else. I would be able to speak to her about everything, and I believe that if she wanted to she could mean oh so much to me. Now the question is whether she, for her part, has the same idea, and whether it isn’t a completely egotistical business I’m embarking on. You girls usually think that there are heroes of every kind in the world, and that the man who proposes to you naturally ought to be one of those beings. I find that very beautiful and don’t want to rob you of the illusion, but for my part I believe that many are taken in if they count on that. In any event, in this case I don’t wish anyone to take me for what I am not, and if I get to know her a little better I’ll let her know that she mustn’t have too many illusions, and I’m still very doubtful whether she will have me. However, I can’t get her out of my thoughts. She is always with me, and how often I curse the impossibly great distance that lies between us. Why can I not see her more often and get to know her, to discover what she would wish and how she thinks about oh so many things? What can I do to come into contact with her in some other way than being in Amsterdam for a day or two once a year and then finish? I’ve already thought about starting to write to her, but even that wasn’t possible at that time because I was foolish enough not to ask her last year whether she wanted to correspond with me. If I do so now, or have someone ask her, then I’d be surrendering myself to her completely, and you’ll perhaps agree with me that she shouldn’t buy a pig in a poke. So I can ask your advice and so you must begin by telling me if you still correspond with her. Now there’s something else. At the moment I’m absolutely unable even to get engaged, since a change in my circumstances is imminent, which I’ll write to you about some other time. I hope that everything will be in order by this summer, but before then I don’t have enough certainty. So keep what I’m writing to you about to yourself, for I’ve written to no one about it and I’ve only spoken to her brother, who feels I should wait a little, at least until my affairs are settled. And how are things with you, little sister. Are you living happily, or rather are you really into life? For my part I feel that I’ve lived too much through the eyes and feelings of others, and that although I like reading and paintings there is something more that I know exists and that I’m not into it. Living simply with nature without poetry that comes from somewhere other than your own heart and own thoughts, that is the true thing. Certainly, everyone has that well-spring and it’s just a question of arranging life so that that spring wells up. Certainly, encouragement from outside is part of it, and that consists of two large components. In the first place mixing with congenial souls, and secondly, but that is an aid, by seeking it from other poets. That seeking is so difficult, and is actually sterile if one isn’t into real life oneself. I hope for your sake that you find much sympathy and some happiness in your life. How is your work and your writing getting along? Do you still have a great love of nature? How is it at home? And how is your health? There, a whole lot of questions, and I’m sure that you’ll soon answer them. Spring is slowly coming here, but it was raw and cold for oh so long. Now it’s becoming lovely, and people, like nature, sometimes thaw out when the sun shines. I needed that oh so much. Now little sister, a hearty kiss, and don’t grumble too much that I kept you waiting so long. Just think that it was winter and that that’s over now. Good-day and ever yours, Theo.’
25 April 1887
Theo van Gogh to Willemien van Gogh. Paris, 25 April 1887 (FR b911).
‘The books that you all sent to Vincent are wonderful, and I’m also profiting from them. I’ve finished A la recherche du bonheur and find it magnificent. Vincent read it too and found it very beautiful. A great deal has changed since I wrote to you all last. We have made peace, because it served no good to carry on in that way. I hope that it will last. So for the time being there’ll be no change, and I’m glad of that. I would find it odd living on my own again, and he wouldn’t have gained anything by it either. I’ve asked him to stay. It will strike you as odd after what I wrote to you recently, but it isn’t weakness on my part, and since I feel much stronger than I did last winter I have high hopes that I’ll be able to bring about an improvement in our relations. We’re already far enough apart that it would have served no good purpose to rend relations even further. I’ve read L’oeuvre that you write about, and before I read it I also thought, in keeping with the review, that there was much of the main character in Vincent. But that isn’t the case. That painter sought the unattainable, while Vincent loves what is far too much to fall into that trap. As to Zola’s books in general, I find them very beautiful, but I agree with you that it isn’t essential reading matter for Dutch girls. It’s a different matter here, where women’s lives are so much freer, and I believe it can’t do any harm, for Zola is absolutely not what many people wrongly think, a writer of vulgar things. He portrays the groups of people, miners, workers etc. as groups, just as they are, with their good and their bad sides, and lets a carter speak and act just like a carter, and shows both the good and the bad sides in those people. I believe that for those who wish to know the world that is the kind of reading matter from which one can learn a great deal; but just as a peasant can live off potatoes and rye bread and you can’t, likewise those books, according to me, are too heavy for some, and it’s certainly not necessary to overburden the stomach.’
15 May 1887
Theo van Gogh to Elisabeth van Gogh. Paris, 15 May 1887 (FR b912).
‘Vincent is still working hard and is making progress. His paintings are becoming lighter, and his great quest is to get sunlight into them. He’s an odd fellow, but what a head he has on him, it’s enviable.’
31 October 1887
Theo van Gogh to Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus. Paris, 31 October 1887 (FR b913).
‘It is Sunday here tomorrow (All Saints). With Vincent and an English acquaintance we are going to spend part of the day with a picture dealer who likes Vincent’s work a lot.’
24 and 26 February 1888
Theo van Gogh to Willemien van Gogh. Paris, 24 and 26 February 1888 (FR b914).
‘Paris 24 and 26 Feb 1888.
For a long time I have been wanting to write to you again and I’m doing so now because I need to tell you that I’m alone again. Vincent left for the south last Sunday, first to Arles to get his bearings and then probably on to Marseille.
The new school of painters tries above all to get light and sun into paintings, and you can well understand that the grey days lately have supplied little material for subjects. Moreover, the cold was making him ill. The years of so much worry and adversity haven’t made him any stronger, and he felt a definite need for rather milder air. A day and a night’s travel and one is there, so the temptation was great and he accordingly decided swiftly to go there. I believe that it will definitely do him good, both physically and for his work. When he came here two years ago I never thought that we’d become so attached to each other, for there’s definitely an emptiness now that I’m alone in the apartment again. If I find someone I will live with him, but it’s not easy to replace someone like Vincent. It’s incredible how much he knows and what a clear view he has of the world. So I’m sure that if he has a certain number of years yet to live he’ll make a name for himself. It was through him that I came into contact with many painters who regarded him very highly. He’s one of the champions of new ideas, that’s to say there’s nothing new under the sun and it would therefore be more correct to speak of the regeneration of old ideas that have been corrupted and diminished by the daily grind. In addition, he has such a big heart that he’s always looking to do something for others, unfortunately for those who cannot or will not understand him. Since I had put my letter to one side, which I do more often if they’re not thrown straight into the fire, I can now tell you a little more about him and also send you a letter from him. He has arrived in Arles, and found 50 centimetres of snow there, which isn’t exactly what he’d been expecting, but he writes that he has made three studies all the same, which he wouldn’t have been able to do in Paris at this time, and he goes on to say: “At times it seems to me that my blood is more or less ready to start circulating again, which wasn’t the case the last few months, I really couldn’t stand it any more.” I hope that the milder air will do him good.
I think that I’ll be getting a young painter, “Koning”, to come and live with me at the beginning of next month. He isn’t nearly as skilful as Vincent, but it will be more companionable than being on my own.
How is your drawing coming along? Is it a success, or have you given it up? Will you let me know if there’s anything you need? I would so much like to know if there’s anything I can do for you. You mustn’t be angry if you don’t get any more letters. Vincent started writing to you ten times and I’ve read more letters to you than you’ve received from him, but sometimes one begins rattling away if one has finally got started, and then it’s better to start afresh. But his letters are always interesting, which is why it’s a pity that he doesn’t write more. Bid Ma good-day from me, and tell her that I’ll write to her this week. Warm regards, and believe me your loving
6 December 1888
Theo van Gogh to Willemien van Gogh. Paris, 6 December 1888 (FR b916).
‘De Haan is a great painter who feels strongly attracted to the movement here, and as a result has a very great deal to worry about, since he clearly recognizes the uselessness of part of his earlier work but nonetheless realizes that he has made a few superb things since he has been here. His earlier work has something of Vincent’s work from Nuenen, but it doesn’t have Vincent’s tempestuousness but instead something resigned and Rembrandtesque that isn’t to be disdained. Isaäcson is far more fanatical, which in my opinion hampers his work; he hasn’t a bean and so he has it far from easy. If he didn’t have the good De Haan I don’t know how he’d get by. He busily paints portraits in families, above all to get the money for models. Both are extremely clever fellows as far as their brains are concerned, so they make interesting company. Since De Haan is weak he almost always stays at home, which is why rather more people drop by and we have a rather convivial time. It was through him that I visited a family where the piano was played beautifully. Do you still remember the painting by Gauguin with the negresses that hangs above the couch? He recently sent twenty paintings to me at the gallery that he’d made in Brittany last year. You know, if you can see the painting in your mind’s eye, what a strange poetry there is in it. Now, the new paintings have the same thing, but since the subjects are closer to hand they’re easier to understand, and if they aren’t more beautiful they are more immediately enjoyable. There are winter landscapes with grey-green hills against the leaden sky where the colour is completely muted, and then one can’t help thinking of the inclemency of the undulating fields. Or the same landscape but with a few beech trees with the reddish brown withered leaves as a contrast to the green. There are also spring landscapes with the delicate branches of the trees from which the young leaves hang like little bells and tell of the jubilance of nature rejuvenated. Or a small village in the first days of spring hidden in a purple haze behind the more deeply coloured tree-trunks, the bright green leaves of which find their echo in the green fields that one sees stretching out against the hill in the distance beyond the village. You’d have to see them to get an idea of how diversely he expresses himself, and above all to sense the different moods in which he made them. Mostly the calm nature that fills his inner being with resignation, but sometimes also the fierce upwelling of all his suffering and struggles, which he expresses through the most powerful, deepest tones that reverberate above all when he saw nature swelling up under the benevolent and creative power of the sun. It’s impossible to describe everything that there is in those paintings, but it turns out that he’s even greater than anyone had supposed. The same thing could happen with him as formerly happened with Millet, who is now understood by everyone because the poetry he proclaimed is so powerful that everyone, from great to small, finds it satisfying. Monet, too, makes superb scenes of nature, but one has to be happy and healthy oneself to enjoy them, otherwise one might think: “Oh, if only I was there, then I’d be happy”. While from Gauguin consoling words are whispered, as it were, to those who are not happy or healthy. With him, nature itself speaks, while with Monet one hears the maker of the paintings speaking. Degas is surprisingly taken with Gauguin’s work. So much so that he wants to go to Arles to visit him. “Lucky dogs,” says Degas of Vincent and Gauguin, “that’s the life”. I don’t need to tell you what that means coming from the lips of the great Degas, who himself has such an understanding of life in its fullness. Vincent hasn’t sent me anything in a long time, but I suspect from his letters that he has made beautiful things. Gauguin’s company is naturally worth a great deal to him, and it’s absorbing him quite a lot at the moment. He recently painted portraits, and above all he seems to be satisfied with them. It’s in the figure that he finds the highest expression of his art.’
29 December 1888
Félix Rey to Theo van Gogh. Arles, 29 December 1888 (FR b1055).
As I promised you when you left Arles, I am hastening to give you the information you may wish concerning your brother’s condition:
His mental state appears to have worsened since Wednesday. The day before yesterday he went to lie down in another patient’s bed and would not leave it, despite my comments. In his night-shirt he chased the Sister on duty and absolutely forbids anyone at all to go near his bed. Yesterday he got up and went to wash in the coal-box.
Yesterday I was forced to have him locked up in an isolation room. Today, my superior issued a certificate of mental disturbance, reporting general delirium and requesting specialised care in an asylum.
We are awaiting the mayor’s order for him to be sent to the Department’s hospital; he is being kept under observation in a bedroom.
With my sincerest regards,
Chief house physician
Bouches du Rhône – Arles –
29 December 1888
Anna van Gogh-Carbentus to Theo van Gogh. Leiden, 29 December 1888 (FR b2425).
See Jansen et al. 2004-2.
‘My dear Theo!
I was deeply moved by your letter. Oh Theo, what sorrow. Thank you for your love for the unhappy Vincent. God be with him and us. Oh, the poor boy! I had hoped things were going well and thought he could quietly devote himself to his work! I had just written him a note to tell him what Israëls and the others had said about his work, and for the New Year, because don’t think I forgot him. Oh Theo, what will happen now, how will things turn out? I would almost say, if only he would become really ill, it would bring things to a head, but he already is very ill, you might say, the worst that one could imagine. My consolation is that he is a child of our heavenly Father, and He will neither fail nor forsake him. If it was for me to say, I would ask, ‘Take him unto Thee’, but we must take things as God gives them. Oh Theo, if it is borne out, you remember what Prof. Ramaar in The Hague said – when Pa so much wanted him to go with him as a mental patient, and Vincent said he was willing to go and ask for medicine, and just when they were supposed to leave, he refused and Pa went anyway to tell him – and he said, from what I now hear something is missing or wrong in the little brain. Poor thing, I believe he was always ill, and what he and we have suffered are the consequences of it. Poor brother of Vincent, sweet, dearest Theo, you too have been very worried and troubled because of him, your great love, wasn’t it too heavy a burden, and now you’ve again done what you could, Wil went to The Hague today, how disappointed she will be too, I am grievously saddened and anyway you will no doubt send me news as often as possible, honestly Theo, if things get even worse and Aix has to happen, tell me everything, otherwise I’ll think even worse. What a coincidence, your hoping for happiness now, and this deep sorrow, may she be a comfort to you, but Theo, I didn’t say anything, I wrote nothing to Jo before you had your answer from Amsterdam. Write to me as soon as you know anything, although I am saddened with grief, I can however be glad about happiness and being the bearer of good news, Jo and Anna also wanted to write. Oh Theo, must the year end with such a disaster? Where is Aix? Such suffering for both of you, how he must feel it all, how touching about Zundert, together on one pillow. Goodbye, dear Theo, may God be near with His comfort, and if possible bring help. God bless the remedies. Thanks for your love, God bless your endeavours. Anna is also sad, Jo and Wil are not at home. A kiss from your ma.’
30 December 1888
Willemien van Gogh to Theo van Gogh. Leiden, 30 December 1888 (FR b2276).
What terrible news I heard when I got home yesterday. You understand how it affected me, and I understand so well what you must be feeling. Poor, poor Vincent, it was foreseeable that such a thing should happen if it didn’t go the other way. But it’s so terrible. Do tell me in as much detail as possible how he is. How wonderful that you could go to him. When you write in this way, he becomes for me very different from an ordinary patient whom no one knows anything about. You won’t keep anything back, will you, and tell everything exactly as it is? You don’t know how much I’d like to go to him. If he were dying, I would, I have the money for it. Do the doctors talk only about mental faculties, which will probably not return, or do they fear for his life?
It is those very moments of consciousness, and that he is alone then, that I find so terrible. Did you get the impression that he feels his own suffering very badly? I find it so fortunate for you that it didn’t happen last year when you were so alone. Now, with De Haan with you, and Jo, it’s surely easier to bear. How your whole heart must be with him. Touching, that story about the little room you two had in Zundert. Could I write to him? Do tell me where he is. And the exact truth about how he is. Do you hear something from a doctor now and then? Could it have been foreseen, did Gauguin see it coming, did he notice more than usual recently, or did something happen to cause the outburst?
And you just happened to write that he himself was satisfied with what he’d made. I’m re-reading your letter about that, who is the man who has taken an interest in him, is it that postman? Fortunate that there’s at least someone. Sadness and happiness go together in a strange way ... I think of Vincent all the time, if only he wasn’t so far away. Ma is also so upset about it. But what a difficult life, and how difficult things have always been for him. If only he could ever find some peace. That is possible, isn’t it, or is it too much a physical illness? I feel so awfully sorry for him, and I wish he knew that. Now dear Theo, the new year will also bring light and darkness, but I hope that there will be much light for you through all things. With a hearty kiss, ever
One of these days you’ll get Vincent’s money that I have for safe-keeping.’
30 December 1888
Félix Rey to Theo van Gogh. Arles, 30 December 1888 (FR 1056).
I hasten to reply to your letter and to give you information concerning your brother’s condition.
I shall tell you straightaway that it is very difficult to give categorical answers to all the questions that you ask me. Nevertheless, I shall give you my personal assessment.
The Protestant minister, Mr Salles, came looking for me this evening, and we went to visit him. He was very calm and seemed perfectly well. When he saw me enter his room he told me that he wished to have as little as possible to do with me. He remembered, no doubt, that it was I who had had him locked up. I then assured him that I was his friend and that I wished to see him recovered soon. I did not hide his situation from him, and explained to him why he was in a room by himself. I told him that his crises did not allow me to leave him in the wards, among all our patients. We talked like that for a little while, and then parted good friends. He asked me to write to you and to give you news of him, something that he did not want at the beginning of our discussion. When I tried to get him to talk about the motive that drove him to cut off his ear, he replied that it was a purely personal matter.
In short, I find that his condition has improved a little, and I do not believe that his life is in danger, for the moment at least. He is eating quite well and his physical strength enables him to withstand his crises. My assessment is that he will be able to recover in a short time, while retaining the extreme excitability that must form the essence of his character.
At present, we are treating only his ear, and no aspect of his mental state. His wound is greatly improved and is not giving us any cause for concern.
A few days ago, we issued a certificate of mental disturbance. The mayor signed an order leaving him in the hospital for the time being, while awaiting his transfer to an asylum. During this time, the chief of police will carry out his enquiry, and then the Prefect will give instructions for him to be taken to Aix or Marseille.
I myself was a house physician in Marseille a few months ago, and I should be glad to recommend him to the colleague who took my place and who is a good friend of mine.
Despite that, I shall permit myself to ask you a question and to offer you a piece of advice. Would you like to have your brother in an asylum close to Paris? Do you have resources? If so, you may very well send him to look for one; his condition easily allows him to make the journey. The matter has not progressed so far that it could not be halted, and for the chief of police to suspend his report. This is the information that I had to offer you concerning your poor brother.
You ask me for my assessment; I shall give you it for what it is worth. I shall always be delighted to give you news of him, because I too have a brother; I too have been far away from my family. In a few months, when I submit my doctoral thesis in Paris, I too should be happy if somebody were able to take an interest in me at a difficult moment.
With my sincerest regards,
8 January 1889
Roulin gave the year wrongly as 1888 at the top of the letter.
‘I acknowledge receipt of your kind letter, by which you do me too great an honour, and I hasten to reply in order to inform you that your dear brother Vincent has fully recovered, he left the hospital today on the 7th instant. What has delayed my reply by 24 hours is that we spent the whole day together, and I ask you to write to him. I have not given him your letter because he would be too distressed to know that he has caused you so much trouble. When you send him your news, let him remain unaware that you had knowledge of the causes of his illness, and tell him that you learned through your brother in Paris that he was unwell and that you are very pleased that he has recovered.
We talked at length today about you and about your mother.
Thank you for the kind things that you say about my wife and our little daughter. Reassure yourself about the health of my good friend Vincent; I am with him whenever my work permits me, and if anything should happen I would let you know at once. I do not believe I deserve all the thanks that you give me, but I shall always strive to deserve my friend Vincent’s respect, as well as that of all those who are dear to him. Permit me to pay my respects, and those of my family, to your mother.
I ask you, Mademoiselle, to accept the sincere greetings of your good brother Vincent’s friend.’
12 February 1889
Félix Rey to Theo van Gogh. Arles, 12 February 1889 (FR b1057).
When I saw that your brother was more fatigued, I had the Rev. Salles informed, in order to ask him what he thought should be done.
I therefore admitted him, and have put him in a room, under observation.
The first day, he was greatly overexcited, and his delirium was general. He no longer recognised me or Mr Salles. Since yesterday, however, I have noted a perceptible improvement. He is less delirious, and he recognises me. He talks to me about painting, but sometimes he loses his train of thought and speaks nothing but disjointed words and jumbled phrases.
I have received the engraving that you were kind enough to send me. Thank you for that.
I apologise for not having written to you sooner to acknowledge receiving it, but on the day when Vincent brought it to me, I noticed that his mental state was deteriorating again and I wished to wait a few days before writing to you, so that I could give you news of him.
This is what I have decided for the time being. We will keep Vincent in the hospital for some time longer. If we see him returning to health we will continue to treat him here. If not, we will send him to the Department’s asylum. I hope, however, that this improvement that we have noted will continue, and that in a few days your brother will be able to return to his work.
With my sincerest regards,
14 February 1889
Theo van Gogh to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Paris, 14 February 1889 (FR b2035).
See Brief happiness 1999. pp. 160-162 (letter 46).
‘Jo, one of the main problems is that, whether sick or well, his life is so barren in terms of what he gets from outside. But if you knew him, you would appreciate twice as much how hard it is to solve the problem of what must and what can be done.
As you know, he abandoned what they call conventions a long time ago. From his style of dress and his demeanour you can see at once that he is different and for years everyone who sees him has said It’s a madman. I don’t mind that at all, but at home it is not acceptable. Then there’s something in the way he talks that makes people either love him very dearly, or unable to tolerate him. He is always surrounded by people who are attracted to him, but also by lots of enemies. He cannot be detached in his dealings with people. It is either one thing or the other. Even those with whom he is the best of friends find him difficult to get along with, as he spares nothing and no one. The year we spent living together was extremely difficult, even though we often agreed with one another, particularly towards the end. If I had time, I should go and see him and go hiking with him, for instance. That’s the only thing I can think of that would really give him peace of mind. If one of the painters might like to do that, I shall send him there. But those he gets on with are slightly afraid of him, which Gauguin’s visit to him did nothing to change, on the contrary. There is also another reason why I am worried about him coming here. In Paris he saw masses of things he wanted to paint, but time and again he was prevented from doing so. Models didn’t want to pose for him, he was forbidden to sit and work in the street and because of his volatile disposition this repeatedly led to scenes, which upset him so much that he became completely unapproachable and by the end of it all he’d had more than enough of Paris. If it were his own wish to come here, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. As soon as I know he’s reading my letters, I shall mention it to see whether it would appeal to him. Perhaps he’d like to meet De Haan and Isaäcson and that might make him decide to come here. But once again, I believe there is nothing to be done for him except allow him to do as he pleases. For anyone else his circumstances in Arles wouldn’t be so bad. His little house is pleasant and it would take time for him to set himself up again like that somewhere else. Another thing is that, though he has no idea about money, he would be upset if all we have put into it were lost. Not if he had the prospect of somewhere else to work in circumstances that appealed to him, then he wouldn’t mind, but he’s the sort of man to go off just to enjoy himself for a while and that’s how he would regard it, if he saw no purpose to it. There’s no such thing as a peaceful environment for him, except in the countryside or with very simple people, like the Roulins, because he leaves his own imprint wherever he goes. He is unable not to remark on things he sees that are not as they ought to be, and this often sows conflict. What I hope he will still find one day is a woman who loves him so much that she will want to live with him, but anyone who would take that upon herself doesn’t come penny a dozen. Do you remember that woman in Turgenev’s Terre Vierge, who got involved with the nihilistst and took the compromising documents across borders? That’s the sort of woman I imagine. Someone who has herself experienced the very depths of life’s misery and has come to the conclusion that the unhappiest people are nevertheless good company. It’s distressing to be so powerless to do anything for him, but exceptional people need exceptional remedies and I only hope they will yet be found where ordinary people would not look. Sadly enough, many painters have gone insane yet nevertheless started to produce true art. Some have been cured, but not all. Vincent calls himself Monticelli’s follower and Monticelli is precisely someone who was unhinged for years and who died like that. Genious roams along such mysterious paths in the mind that a spell of dizziness can bring it hurtling down from its heights. At present, he needs medical care more than anything else at all and he can get all he requires in Arles. If he recovers sufficiently to decide for himself, I shall try to help him do whatever is best.’
Shortly before 27 February 1889
Petition from residents living near Place Lamartine to Jacques Tardieu, Mayor of Arles. Arles, shortly before 27 February 1889 (ACA).
Probably drawn up by Damase Crevoulin, the first signatory. Reproduced in exhib. cat. Arles 2003, p. 60.
‘Dear Mr Mayor
We the undersigned, residents of place Lamartine in the city of Arles, have the honour to inform you that for some time and on several occasions the man named Vood (Vincent), a landscape painter and a Dutch subject, living in the above square, has demonstrated that he is not in full possession of his mental faculties, and that he over-indulges in drink, after which he is in a state of over-excitement such that he no longer knows what he is doing or what he is saying, and very unpredictable towards the public, a cause for fear to all the residents of the neighbourhood, and especially to women and children.
In view of this, the undersigned have the honour of requesting, in the name of public safety, that the man named Vood (Vincent) return forthwith to his family, or that they complete the formalities required in order to have him admitted to an asylum, so as to prevent any such unfortunate occurrence as is bound take place one of these days if strong measures are not taken in his regard.
We venture to hope, Mr Mayor, that, taking into consideration the serious interest which we demonstrate here, you will have the great courtesy to give our request the response that it deserves.
We have the honour to be, with the greatest respect, Mr Mayor,
your devoted constituents’
This is followed by 30 signatures, of which only the legible ones are listed below.
D. Crevoulin, grocer; Esprit Lantheaume; Fayard; Viany, retail tobacconist; Siletto François; Claude Reynaud; Conry, blacksmith; Maurice Villaret; Louis Cleheylan; Coste; Julien; Mrs Dayan; François Trouche; E.[?] Coulomb; Aubert Victor, Maréchal; Berthet Adrien, ganger plate-layer; Gion Joseph; Bonifay; the widow Nay; Mayé; the widow Vénissac; Soulé; Chareyre; J. Boissié; A.[?] Charabas.
27 February 1889
Summons drawn up by Joseph d’Ornano, Chief of Police, in response to the petition from local residents. Arles, 27 February 1889 (ACA).
He also signed each deposition. Reproduced in exhib. cat. Arles 2003, p. 60.
‘The year eighteen hundred and eighty-nine and the twenty-seventh of February;
We, Joseph d’Ornano, Chief Inspector of Police in the city of Arles, officer of the criminal police, assistant to the Public Prosecutor;
Considering the enclosed petition of the residents of place de Lamartine, concerning the behaviour of Mr Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch subject, suffering from mental disturbance;
Considering the attached report by Doctor Delon dated the 7th of this month and the instructions of the Mayor of Arles, ordering that van Gogh’s degree of madness be established;
Have opened an enquiry and interviewed those named below:
1st Mr Bernard Soulé, aged 63, landlord, of 53 avenue Montmajour, who made the following declaration to me:
As the managing agent of the house occupied by Mr Vincent van Gogh, I had occasion to speak with him yesterday and to observe that he is suffering from mental disturbance, because his conversation is incoherent and his mind wandering. Furthermore, I have heard it said that this man is prone to interfering with women living in the neighbourhood; I have even been assured that they actually no longer feel at ease in their homes, because he enters their residences.
In short, it is a matter of urgency that this insane man be confined in a special asylum, especially in view of the fact that Van Gogh’s presence in our neighbourhood compromises public safety.
Read, agreed and signed
2nd Mrs Marguerite Crevelin, née Favier, aged 32, provision merchant, of place de Lamartine, who told us the following:
I occupy the same house as Mr Vincent van Gogh, who is truly insane. This individual comes into my shop and makes a nuisance of himself. He insults my customers and is prone to interfering with women from the neighbourhood, whom he follows into their residences. In fact, everyone in the neighbourhood is frightened on account of the presence of the said Van Gogh, who will certainly become a threat to public safety.
Read, agreed and signed with us,
3rd Mrs Maria Viany, née Ourtoul, aged 40, retail tobacconist, of place de Lamartine, who confirmed the previous witness’s declaration
And read, agreed and signed
4th Mrs Jeanne Coulomb, née Conéas, aged 42, dressmaker, of 24 place de Lamartine, who made the following declaration:
Mr Van Gogh, who lives in the same neighbourhood as myself, has become increasingly mad in the past few days, and everyone in the vicinity is frightened. The women, especially, no longer feel comfortable, because he is prone to interfering with them, and makes obscene remarks in their presence.
In my own case, I was seized round the waist outside Mr Crevelin’s shop by this individual the day before yesterday, Monday, and lifted off my feet. In short, this madman is becoming a threat to public safety, and everyone is demanding that he be confined in a special establishment.
Read, agreed and signed
5th Mr Joseph Ginoux, aged 45, café owner, of place de Lamartine, who agreed that the facts recounted by the previous witness are true and genuine, and has stated that he had nothing to add to her deposition
And read, agreed and signed.
Mr Vincent van Gogh is truly suffering from mental disturbance; however, we have noted on several occasions that this madman has moments of lucidity. Van Gogh
is not yet a threat to public safety, but there are fears that he may become so. All his neighbours are frightened, and with good cause, because a few weeks ago, the madman concerned cut off an ear in a fit of insanity, a crisis that could be repeated and be harmful to somebody in his vicinity.
Given that the foregoing enquiries and our personal observations show that Mr Vincent Van Gogh is suffering from mental disturbance, and that he could become a threat to public safety; we are of the opinion that there are grounds for detaining this patient in a special asylum.
In view of which I have written this report, to be submitted for the purposes of the law, and have signed;
Arles, third March eighteen hundred and eighty-nine
24 april 1889
Theo van Gogh to Théophile Peyron. Paris, 24 april 1889.
See Tralbaut 1969, p. 275.
With the agreement of the person involved, who is my brother, I am writing to request the admission into your institution of: Vincent Willem van Gogh, painter aged 36, born at Groot Zundert (Holland) and at present living in Arles. I ask you to admit him with your 3rd-class residents. Since his confinement is requested primarily in order to prevent a recurrence of past crises, and not because his mental state is compromised at present, I hope you will have no objection to allowing him the freedom to paint outside the institution when he wishes to do so. Further, without elaborating on the attention that he will require, but which I assume is given with the same care to all your residents, I ask you to be so kind as to allow him to have at least 1/2 litre of wine with his meals.’
8 May 1889
Le grand registre de l’asile de Saint-Rémy (Photograph: VGM, Documentation). Van Gogh was admitted on 8 May 1889 and discharged on 16 May 1890. See Tralbaut 1969, pp. 276-277; Hulsker, pp. 519-522, 596, and exhib. cat. New York 1986, pp. 26, 73.
[Surnames, Forenames, Age, Place of Residence and Occupation of the person admitted]
Mr Vincent van Gogh, aged 36, Painter, born in Holland at Groot Zundert, at present living in Arles (Bouches du Rhône)
[Surnames, Forenames, Age, Place of Residence, Occupation and position of the person having the patient admitted]
Mr Théodore van Gogh, aged 32, born in Holland, living in Paris (Seine), patient’s brother
[Transcript of the Doctor’s Certificate attached to the request]
I the undersigned, Chief Medical Officer at Arles Hospital, certify that six months ago the man named Vincent van Gogh, aged 35, suffered an attack of acute mania with generalised delirium. At that time he cut off his ear. At present his condition has greatly improved, but he nevertheless thinks it helpful to be cared for in a mental asylum.
Arles 7 May 1889, Dr Urpar
certified accurate, Dr T. Peyron, Director
[Transcript of the 24-hour and two-week certificates issued by the asylum’s doctor]
‘I the undersigned, Doctor of medicine, Director of the St Rémy mental home, certify that the man named Vincent van Gogh, aged 36, a native of Holland and at present domiciled in Arles (Bouches du Rhône), under treatment at this city’s infirmary, suffered an attack of acute mania with visual and auditory hallucinations that led him to mutilate himself by cutting off his ear. Today he appears to have regained his reason, but he does not feel that he has the strength or the courage to live independently and has himself asked to be admitted to the home. Based on all the above, I consider that Mr van Gogh is subject to attacks of epilepsy, separated by long intervals, and that it is advisable to place him under long-term observation in the institution.
St Rémy 9 May 1889, Dr T. Peyron
I the undersigned, Doctor of medicine, Director of the St Rémy mental home, certify that the man named Vincent van Gogh, aged 36, born in Holland, admitted on 8 May 1889 suffering from acute mania with visual and auditory hallucinations, has shown a perceptible improvement in his condition, but that it is advisable to keep him in the institution in order to continue his treatment.
St Rémy 25 May 1889, Dr T. Peyron’
[Date of admission] admitted 8 May 1889
[Monthly notes of the asylum doctor]
This patient arrives from the hospital in Arles, where he has been under treatment for several months; he has been admitted there following an attack of acute mania, which occurred suddenly, accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations that terrified him. During that attack he cut off his left ear, but he has no more than a vague memory of all that, and is not aware of it.
He tells us that his mother’s sister was Epileptic, and that there are several cases in his family. What has happened to this patient may be no more than a continuation of what has happened to several members of his family. He tried to resume his normal life when he left the infirmary in Arles, but he was forced to return there after two days because he was again experiencing bizarre sensations and bad dreams during the night; it is from that hospital that he comes directly to the mental home, at his own request.
The following entry was added when Van Gogh left the asylum
During his stay in the home, this patient, who was calm for most of the time, had several attacks lasting for between two weeks and a month; during these attacks, the patient is subject to terrifying terrors, and on several occasions he has attempted to poison himself, either by swallowing colours that he used for painting, or by ingesting paraffin, which he had taken from the boy while he was filling his lamps.
The last attack he had occurred following a journey that he made to Arles, and it lasted approximately two months. In the interval between attacks the patient is perfectly calm and lucid, and passionately devotes himself to painting.
He is asking to be discharged today, in order to go to live in the north of France, hoping that that climate will suit him better.
[Date of discharge] discharged 16 May 1890
[Comments] Recovery. He tells us that his mother’s sister was Epileptic, and that there are several cases in his family. Dr T. Peyron’
On or about 2 September 1889
Théophile Peyron to Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about 2 September 1889.
Written on p. [2r:8] of Vincent’s letter 798 to Theo (FR b650).
I add a line to your brother’s letter, to tell you that he is past his crisis, that he has fully regained his lucidity and that he has gone back to work at painting, as he was doing before. His ideas of suicide have disappeared; there remain only his bad dreams, which are tending to disappear, and are of lesser intensity.
His appetite has come back and he has resumed his normal life.
With my sincerest compliments,
28 July 1890
Theo van Gogh to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Auvers-sur-Oise, 28 July 1890 (FR b2066).
See Brief happiness 1999, pp. 269-270 (letter 96).
‘This morning a Dutch painter who is also in Auvers brought a letter from Dr Gachet conveying bad news about Vincent and asking me to go there. I dropped everything and went immediately and found him better than I had expected, although he is indeed very ill. I shan’t go into detail, it’s all too distressing, but I should warn you, dearest, that his life could be in danger.
What should we think and what should we hope for him? He was pleased I had come and we’re together almost constantly. If he’s better tonight, I’ll go back to Paris tomorrow morning, but if not, I shall stay on here. Poor fellow, he wasn’t granted a lavish share of happiness and he no longer harbours any illusions. He was lonely, and sometimes it was more than he could bear. Don’t be too sad, my love, you know I tend to paint things blacker than they are. Perhaps he’ll recover yet and see better times ...
Dearest, if anything should happen to Vincent it would be better for you to be in Holland and I shall be strong. Is it not strange that I was so nervous and uneasy all of last week, as if I had a premonition that something would happen.
He talks to me so pleasantly and kept asking after you and the little one and said you had no inkling of all life’s sadness. If only we could give him more faith in life.’
29 July 1890
A photograph of the ‘Extrait du registre des acte de décés’ concerning Van Gogh was issued by Mayor E. Fauquert of Auvers-sur-Oise on 16 July 1906 and sent to Monsieur J. du Quesne de Bruchem, lawyer in Baarn (VGM, inv. no. bd6; the original is in the Nibbeling/Weenink Collection in De Bilt). Cf. also Ravoux 1957, p. 14. Van Gogh died at 1.30 in the morning.
Paris and Leiden, 29 July 1890 (FR b1494).
Mr T. van Gogh and his whole Family
are very sad to inform you of the loss that they
have suffered in the person of Mr
are very sad to inform you of the loss that they
have suffered in the person of Mr
Vincent Willem van Gogh
deceased, at the age of 37 years, on 29 July 1890, at
Paris, 8, cité Pigalle
Leiden, Heerengracht (Holland)’
Leiden, Heerengracht (Holland)’
1 August 1890
Theo van Gogh to Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus. Paris, 1 August 1890 (FR b934).
See Pickvance 1992, pp. 56-57. Note: ‘The other doctor’ was Dr. Mazery, the local practitioner. See exhib. cat. New York 1986, p. 216.
‘Dear beloved Mother,
One cannot write how sad one is nor find solace in pouring out one’s heart on paper. May I come to you soon? I still have to make all sorts of arrangements here but if it is possible I would like to leave here on Sunday morning to be with you in the evening. It is a sadness which will weigh upon me for a long time and will certainly not leave my thoughts as long as I live, but if one should want to say anything it is that he himself has found the rest he so much longed for. If he could have seen how people behaved to me when he had left us and could have seen the kindness which so many showed for him, he would for the moment not have decided that he wanted to die. Today I received your letter and the one from Wil and I thank you both. It would be better to tell you everything instead of writing. Dr Gachet and the other doctor were excellent and looked after him well, but they realized from the very first moment that there was nothing one could do. Vincent said: This is how I would like to go and half an hour later he had his way. Life weighed so heavily upon him, but as happens more often everyone is now full of praise for his talent too. Maybe it was fortunate that Jo was not here for it might have given her a shock. May she also come once I am there. Later we will go to Amsterdam for a couple of days. Oh Mother, I so much long to be with you. I suppose you have written to Lies. I can’t do it at the moment. Only tomorrow will I know for certain whether I can leave and if I cannot come I will send you another letter. Oh Mother, he was so very much my own brother. In my thoughts a kiss for you and Wil from your loving
1 August 1890
Theo van Gogh to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Auvers-sur-Oise, 1 August 1890 (FR b2067).
See Brief happiness 1999, p. 279 (letter 101).
‘Fortunately, he was still alive when I reached Auvers and I didn’t leave his side until it was all over. I can’t write about it all, but I shall be with you soon and I’ll tell you everything. One of his last words was: this is how I wanted to go and it took a few moments and then it was over and he found the peace he hadn’t been able to find on earth. The two doctors were marvellous. Dr Gachet had summoned the village doctor because he didn’t trust himself, but nevertheless it was he who did everything. Afterwards he scarcely left me alone for a moment and was extremely kind. Everyone was splendid. The following morning 8 friends arrived from Paris and elsewhere, and in the room where the coffin had been placed they hung his paintings, which looked so very beautiful. There were masses of bouquets and wreaths. Dr Gachet arrived first with a magnificent bunch of sunflowers because he loved them so much. There are lots of artists living in Auvers and many of them came. Dries came, too. There was much to be done to have the funeral take place on time, but it was all arranged, and waiting the last hour was hard. He is buried in a sunny spot among the wheatfields, and the churchyard hasn’t the unpleasantness of Parisian churchyards. Dr Gachet spoke beautifully; I said a few words of thanks and then it was over. I managed to leave in the evening, but oh, how empty it is everywhere. I miss him so; everything seems to remind me of him.’
23 October 1890
‘I did know that Vincent’s death had shocked him [Theo] terribly, but I and many in the family regarded it as a relief rather than a misfortune.
I knew the unhappy Vincent like that from an early age, and at home we had already gone through so much with him and had tried to make him more natural, but always without the least success.
Later, when he became even more peculiar and more difficult to get on with we always pitied your dear Theo, who with the greatest patience and the greatest possible devotion always supported his peculiar, searching brother so amicably and never doubted his talent and vocation as an artist. He endured a great deal from Vincent, and showed himself to the very end to be a faithful, loving, ministering friend and made every sacrifice for him. But alas, who would have thought that he would have to pay such a heavy price for all his care and devotion! How terrible that even now Vincent does not leave him in peace after his death and saddled him, as heir, with an impossible task to which he now, as it were, sacrifices all his life force and energy, such that his poor martyred head begins to suffer from it.’
8 May 1912
See also Van Crimpen 1988, pp. 83-85.
‘Having arrived in Paris in September 1887, I knew his brother Theodoor there first through the art dealers Goupil, and he soon put me in touch with Vincent, who – having just emerged from his Brabant interiors – was working hard to familiarize himself with his new way of seeing things. Theodoor and he lived in a spacious upstairs apartment with many rooms, very high up on Montmartre, in rue des Abbesses I believe, and there Vincent found a superb location for him to work. However, I couldn’t reconcile myself at all with what he was making, the shock at first glance had been too great, and it remained a mystery to me that he exchanged the method he had pursued in Brabant for it. You are familiar with his way of working from that period, so I will restrict myself to what I remember of our daily life, and can add here right away that that autumn, winter and spring with him was a very relaxing period for me. I rented half of the upstairs apartment from Theodoor, who went to live closer to his business, and gradually began to penetrate Vincent’s realm of thought. He never stopped talking about his work and his ideas on colour, about which I will send you a couple of letters from that period for your perusal. I had some more, but they have disappeared as a result of numerous moves. We had the beautiful things close at hand. Montmartre was still an El Dorado then, and Vincent was always sitting out there somewhere in the sun, with his work and his pipe, at the brickyard, or painting a woman in a vegetable stall, with all the reflections in purple, blue and orange which the sunny environment conjured up in it. I had promised Theo to keep an eye on the material side, and when I had finally persuaded him to come out for a meal, I saw another side of him, because then he did drop everything right away. We then had to walk for 20 minutes to an eating-house, a kind of hall with a big glass roof like the central station, where it was good and cheap, and the walls were extremely suitable for exhibiting. The boss was an enterprising fellow but very quick-tempered, the doctor had said that he always had to count to 20 if he got angry. That did him a lot of good then, but even more so the interest our exhibitions aroused. It even attracted an art dealer, a red-haired Scotsman by the name of Alexander Reid. He never bought anything though, but the three of us always ate together. The restaurant had waitresses, about 30 of them, whom Vincent had given odd names in Dutch, which they couldn’t pronounce. There was a giantess among them, very white and fat, as if she was made of margarine. Vincent always called her “the invertebrate”. When we laughed about it, Reid, the art dealer, thought it applied to him, and didn’t want to eat with us any longer. I met him once again later on, constantly disparaging Vincent. About a coloured goat at a colourman’s he said “Look at that, a painting by Vincent”. A dog answering nature’s call: “Look at that, Vincent’s colours”. So that I said to him that he was probably sorry that Vincent was not associating with him any more, whereupon he also turned his back on me for good.
Montmartre, our house and our restaurant meanwhile remained the 3 big points of attraction. I said that the boss was an enterprising fellow. A great power, Russia I think, suddenly needed lots of money which France had to lend to it. The bankers walked around with pinched faces and wrinkled with worry. Things needed livening up, and one day all the girls put on Russian costumes, with a big red cap. I can still recall Vincent’s delight, and so as to contribute something as well I painted a big snow-covered plain with exiles on their way to Siberia. The boss later thought that this was not so suitable, and preferred to have the Czar’s head on the front door instead.
In early spring the following year, the pull of the south became too strong for Vincent, and his brother also thought it better for him not to wait any longer, but to have his wish fulfilled. We often corresponded about art after that, and although Vincent and above all Theodoor had introduced me to many people, it was not the real thing any more, and I went home soon afterwards.’
12 June 1912
Jan Benjamin Kam was the son of the Reverend Jan Gerrit Kam (1833-1917). See also Van Crimpen 1988, pp. 79-81.
‘I first met Van Gogh probably just before Christmas 1880 at Roosendaal station, and we travelled to Etten together. He was coming from Belgium, I presume from Antwerp, where he had been working at the academy and had drawn stoves for a blacksmith. It is possible that this meeting took place just before Easter 1881. I then saw a drawing by him of miners going to the pit through the snow in the early morning, very primitively drawn, without knowledge of perspective, quite small but very expressive. I would recognize the drawing immediately if I saw it again.
In June 1881 I went to see Vincent once more. He was living with his parents in Etten at the time; he had a room there adjoining the house for a workroom, where he also slept. He was oddly dressed then, without a collar, and he made studies of trees or shrubs in pencil. He used to go out with a portfolio and a coarse plank on which he stretched the paper. He needed a hard surface because he preferred to work with an ordinary carpenter’s pencil – that broad, coarse pencil that carpenters use. Now and then I saw him holding it in his fist and working on the paper to the point of tearing it.
At that time he had several visits from Van Rappard, who came from Belgium, and who had started on a study in oils in the heath near by. On one occasion the three of us set out in the early morning. I painted a study, while the other two made drawings. Van Gogh was in very high spirits, and more cheerful than I ever saw him again. That summer I went out with him repeatedly, or looked him up in his workroom, where he copied studies by Bargue with tremendous zeal. I believe he intended to copy a series of 100 poses, and I presume he finished them all. He was reading Zola then, and studied a very simple French book on perspective. At that time the two of us paid a visit to the collection of his uncle, Mr Van Gogh at Princenhage, where he spoke warmly of a beautiful little painting by Bosboom, and about Maris, Mauve, and some Frenchmen, but above all about Millet. He was drawing sowers then, and went into small dwellings to draw the woman doing some domestic chore. He forced people to pose for him. They were afraid of him, and it was not pleasant to be with him.
He then began to apply some simple colours to his drawings. He just gave a tiled floor that he had drawn a red tint using watercolour. He also used pens then, cut from reeds, with Indian ink to which he later added uniform tints with water, a method that my brother and I imitated.
I do not remember any particular drawings from that period. I think I saw one of them later, at Oldenzeel’s in Rotterdam, I believe.
He then left Etten in the autumn. I believe he went to Dordrecht and later to The Hague. I saw him for the last time the following year, 1882. I looked him up in his house in Schenkweg. I found him there in a room with buckets of dirty water in which he continually sponged his studies. His model was an emaciated poor lady whom he sketched again and again. He was extremely happy that a couple of city views of The Hague that he had drawn were being exhibited at Goupil’s. I think he made six of them, which were all bought, probably at the request of his brother Theo.
I never saw Vincent again after that.’
23 June 1914
Kerssemakers’s recollection of Van Gogh’s studio in Nuenen, with drawings of the studio, the numbers in which correspond to those in this letter (FR b1423). Below the drawings: ‘View from the outside’ and ‘Ground plan’.
‘The cupboards were neither old nor antique, in fact he owned nothing of value. Everything bespoke a lack of money but he put everything to good use, made many objects himself or had them made by an ordinary carpenter working to his instructions, such as an easel, paint-boxes, perspective frame, stool, everything! Only once did he order a small paint-box of lacquered tin from Schoenfeld of Düsseldorf, and he went to great trouble to get it.
1.2. Benches at working height, with studies and all sorts of things on them
3.4. Cupboards with birds’ nests, mosses, clogs, etc.
5. Stove with a pile of ashes around it
farm implements in every corner, etc. etc.
Everywhere on the floor and chairs drawings, studies, illustrations, mainly from The Graphic, in short a complete mess ... As you will see, his studio was in two parts, and he worked there, where he had the best light.’