My dear Theo,
On my side, too, it’s more than time that I wrote to you with a rested mind for once. Thanks first of all for your kind letter and for the 100-franc note it contained. Our days pass in working, working always, in the evening we’re worn out and go to the café before retiring to bed early. That’s our existence. Naturally it’s winter here too, although the weather still continues to be very fine from time to time. But I don’t find it disagreeable to try to work from the imagination, since that permits me not to go out. Working in the heat of a stove doesn’t bother me, but the cold isn’t for me, as you know. Only I’ve spoiled that thing I did of the garden at Nuenen1 and I feel that habit is also necessary for works of the imagination. But I’ve done the portraits of an entire family, the family of the postman whose head I did before – the man, his wife, the baby, the young boy and the 16-year-old son, all characters and very French, although they have a Russian look. No. 15 canvases.2 You can sense how in my element that makes me feel, and that it consoles me to a certain extent for not being a doctor.  1v:2
I hope to persevere with this and be able to obtain more serious sittings, which can be paid for with portraits.
And if I manage to do this entire family even better, I’ll have done at least one thing to my taste and personal.
At the moment I’m really in the shit, studies, studies, studies, and that’ll go on for some time yet – such a mess that it breaks my heart – and yet that’ll give me neatness when I’m 40. From time to time a canvas that makes a painting, such as that sower, which I too think is better than the first one.3
If we can withstand the siege, a day of victory will come for us, even though we wouldn’t be among the people who are being talked about. It’s rather a case of thinking of that proverb, joy in town, grief at home.4
What can you expect? Supposing that we still have a whole battle to fight, then we must try to mature calmly. You’ve always told me to do more quality than quantity. Now, nothing is preventing us from having a lot of studies classed as such, and consequently not having a whole heap of things for sale. And if sooner or later we’re obliged to sell,  1v:3 then selling at a slightly higher price the things that can hold their own from the point of view of serious research.
I think that – in spite of myself – I won’t be able to prevent myself sending you a few canvases shortly, say within a month. I say in spite of myself, for I’m convinced that the canvases gain from drying right through here in the south, to the point where the impasto is thoroughly hardened, which takes a long time – that’s to say a year. If I restrain myself from sending them that would certainly be best. For we don’t need to show them at the moment, I’m well enough aware of that.
Gauguin works a lot – I very much like a still life with yellow background and foreground.5 He’s working on a portrait of me which I don’t count as one of his undertakings that don’t come to anything.6
At present he’s doing landscapes,7 and finally he has a good canvas of washerwomen,8 even very good as I see it.
You should receive two of Gauguin’s drawings in return for 50 francs which you sent him in Brittany. But old mother Bernard simply appropriated them.9 Speaking of indescribable stories, this is indeed one. I think that she’ll give them back though in the end.  1r:4 Beware of the Bernard family, but you should know that in my opinion Bernard’s work is very fine and that he’ll have some well-deserved success in Paris.
Very interesting that you met Chatrian. Is he blond or dark? I’d like to know that, since I know the two portraits.10
In their work, it’s above all Madame Therèse and L’ami Fritz that I like.
As regards L’histoire d’un sous-maître, it seems to me that there’s more to find fault with than seemed possible to me at the time.11
I think we’ll end up spending our evenings drawing and writing, there’s more to work on than we can do.
You know that Gauguin has been invited to exhibit at the Vingtistes.12 His imagination is already leading him to think of settling in Brussels, which would indeed be a means of finding himself in a position to see his Danish wife again.13 Since he has some success with the Arlésiennes in the meantime, I wouldn’t consider that as being absolutely without consequences.
He’s married and doesn’t much appear to be, in short I fear there may be an absolute incompatibility of character between his wife and himself, but naturally he’s more attached to his children, who judging from the portraits are very beautiful.14 We, on the other hand, aren’t too gifted in that respect. More soon, a handshake for you and for the Dutchmen.15


Gauguin will write to you tomorrow, he’s waiting for a reply to his letter16 and sends his warm regards.


Br. 1990: 728 | CL: 560
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Saturday, 1 December 1888

1. Reminiscence of the garden at Etten (F 496 / JH 1630 [2747]). Here Van Gogh calls the garden the ‘garden at Nuenen’; in letters 719 and 720 he spoke of it as the ‘garden at Etten’.
2. Joseph Roulin and his wife Augustine had two sons and one daughter: Armand (17), Camille (11) and Marcelle (4 months). The head of Roulin previously painted by Van Gogh is Joseph Roulin (F 433 / JH 1524 [2673]), dating from the end of July or beginning of August 1888.
Van Gogh says that the new portraits are no. 15 canvases, meaning approximately 65 x 54 cm, so he could be referring to the following ones: Joseph Roulin (F 434 / JH 1647 [2759]), Augustine Roulin (F 503 / JH 1646 [2758]), Marcelle Roulin in her mother’s arms (F 491 / JH 1638 [2751]), Camille Roulin (F 665 / JH 1879 [2882]), Armand Roulin (F 492 / JH 1642 [2754]) and/or Armand Roulin (F 493 / JH 1643 [2755]). On the series of Roulin portraits, see also Dorn 1990, pp. 446-454.
[2673] [2759] [2758] [2751] [2882] [2754] [2755]
3. Van Gogh’s ‘sower in question’ refers to Sower with setting sun (F 450 / JH 1627 [2746]), of which he had made a sketch in his last letter to Theo (722). Assuming that ‘I too’ is a reaction to what Theo had written to him in response to this sketch, ‘the first one’ must refer to the first painting he made of a sower in Arles, Sower with setting sun (F 422 / JH 1470 [2646]), made around mid-June, which Theo had had since mid-August. It is not likely that he is referring here to Sower (F 494 / JH 1617 [2739]). To be sure, he had also made a sketch of that painting for Theo (in letter 714), but that was a much less ambitious painting than F 422.
[2746] [2646] [2739]
4. For this proverb, taken from Numa Roumestan, see letter 683, n. 27. A month later Van Gogh mentions the novel again (see letter 736), which could mean that he had just re-read Numa Roumestan.
a. Read: ‘de ne pas avoir à vendre’.
5. This still life is lost; see letter 722, n. 10.
6. Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh painting sunflowers, 1888 (W326/W296) (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 115 [115].
7. These landscapes probably included The blue trees (W319/W311), which appears in the background of the above-mentioned portrait of Van Gogh and in Portrait of Mrs Roulin (W327/W298). Near Arles (W323/W309) and Farms in the vicinity of Arles (W324/W310) are also thought to have been among the landscapes Gauguin was working on in early December. See exhib. cat. Chicago 2001, p. 222 and Wildenstein 2001, pp. 537, 539-540.
[791] [792]
[2263] [119]
9. At the beginning of June, Theo had sent 50 francs to Gauguin, who had promised him work in return (see letter 623, n. 1). Bernard’s mother, Héloïse Bernard-Bodin, had brought a consignment of paintings by Gauguin from Pont-Aven to Paris (letter 704, n. 1), and Gauguin had heard from Bernard that she had kept the drawings intended for Theo. In a letter from the second half of November, Gauguin had therefore asked Bernard to put things to rights. See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, p. 284.
It cannot be said with certainty which of Gauguin’s drawings Theo received. One of them was possibly the pastel Study of Breton girls dancing, ‘Ronde bretonne’, 1888 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 2264 [2264]. This comes from the family estate.
10. There were numerous portraits in circulation of the writing duo Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. The latter had dark hair (See Nouveau dictionnaire de biographie alsacienne, no. 9. Strasbourg 1986, p. 833).
11. Regarding Erckmann-Chatrian’s Madame Thérèse and L’ami Fritz, see letter 55, n. 24. The novel Histoire d’un sous-maitre (1871) is the story of a young teacher in a village in the Alsace.
12. Regarding the artists’ society Les Vingt, see letter 580, n. 6. Gauguin’s letter to Octave Maus, in which he accepts the invitation to exhibit his work, is dated ‘Nov. 1888’. He informs Theo himself of his commitment – this was evidently the letter that Gauguin intended to write ‘tomorrow’ (l. 27). See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, pp. 291, 294; Merlhès dated it to some time between 4 and 7 December.
13. Gauguin wanted to travel to Copenhagen to visit his wife, Mette, and their five children, as emerges from a letter he wrote to Mette at the end of June 1889: ‘For me it was a question of going to see them [= the children] over 6 months ago; (all of a sudden) you people in Copenhagen, you thought it wasn’t responsible to go to that sort of expense’ (Il était question pour moi d’aller les voir il y a plus de 6 mois (tout d’un coup) vous avez trouvé vous autres de Copenhague que ce n’était pas sérieux de faire pareille dépense). See Gauguin lettres 1946, pp. 158-159.
14. In 1888 J. Petersen & Sön made a portrait photograph of Mette Gauguin and her children (Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Documentation). Ill. 2265 [2265].
16. Around 22 November Gauguin had sent five of his new paintings to Theo, asking him to confirm their receipt at once. See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, p. 288. That Theo did as requested is apparent from Gauguin’s letter (mentioned in n. 12 above).