My dear Theo,
Here’s a short note for Bernard and Lautrec, to whom I’d solemnly promised to write.1 I’m sending it to you so that you can give it to them sometime, it’s not in the least urgent and it will be a reason for you to see what they’re doing and to hear what they’re saying, if you want.
But what’s Tersteeg doing? Nothing? If you haven’t had a reply, I’d drop him a line if I were you, very short and very calm, but stating that you’re astonished that he hasn’t replied to you. I say ‘personally’, because even though he doesn’t reply to me — to you — HE MUST reply, and you must insist on getting a reply. If you don’t, you’ll lose your self-confidence, and on the contrary, this is an excellent opportunity to gain more.2 I don’t believe we should press the point in a new letter explaining things again. We have to be careful with him — but what we have to avoid is to let ourselves be treated as if we were dead or outlaws. Enough. Let’s hope that you’ve received his reply in the meantime.
I’ve had a line from Gauguin,3 who complains about the bad weather, is still unwell and says nothing vexes him more than lack of money among the variety of human ills, and yet he feels doomed to be broke for ever.  1v:2
Rain and wind these past few days, I’ve worked at home on the study of which I’ve made a croquis in Bernard’s letter.4 My aim was to give it colours like stained glass, and a design of solid outlines.5
Am reading Pierre et Jean by Guy de Maupassant. It’s beautiful — have you read the preface explaining the freedom the artist has to exaggerate, to create in a novel a more beautiful, simpler, more consoling nature,6 and explaining what Flaubert’s phrase might have meant, ‘talent is long patience’ — and originality an effort of will and intense observation?7
There’s a Gothic porch here that I’m beginning to think is admirable, the porch of St Trophime,8 but it’s so cruel, so monstrous, like a Chinese nightmare,9 that even this beautiful monument in so grand a style seems to me to belong to another world, to which I’m as glad not to belong as to the glorious world of Nero the Roman.10
Must I tell the truth and add that the Zouaves, the brothels, the adorable little Arlésiennes going off to make their first communion,11 the priest in his surplice who looks like a dangerous rhinoceros, the absinthe drinkers, also seem to me like creatures from another world?  1v:3 This doesn’t mean I’d feel at home in an artistic world, but it means I prefer to make fun of myself than to feel lonely. And I think I’d feel sad if I didn’t see the funny side of everything.
You’ve had plenty of snow in Paris, from what our friend L’Intransigeant tells us.12 However, it’s not a bad idea for a journalist to advise General Boulanger to put the secret police off the scent by henceforth wearing rose-tinted spectacles, which in his opinion would go better with the General’s beard.13 Perhaps this will have the favourable influence we’ve been wanting for so long — on the picture trade.
But nevertheless we’re going to see something of what there is in this famous Mr Tersteeg. He’ll have to come to a decision — really — in the interests of our pals we are, it seems to me, under some obligation not to let ourselves be thought of as dead men. It’s not about us but it’s about the question of the Impressionists in general, so as he has been approached by us, we must have his reply.
You must feel like me that we can’t move forward without having  1r:4 positive information about his intentions.
If we think it’s a good idea to create a permanent exhibition of the Impressionists in London and Marseille, it goes without saying that we’ll try to establish them. So it remains to be seen, will Tersteeg be part of it? Yes or no?
And if not, what are his intentions as regards an offensive, do they exist, yes or no? And has he calculated, like us, the effect of a fall on paintings that are highly priced at present, a fall which, it seems to me, will probably come about as soon as the Impressionists rise.
Look at the way those who sell highly priced paintings are harming themselves by opposing, for political reasons, the advent of a school that for years has shown an energy and a perseverance worthy of Millet, Daubigny and others. But let me know if Tersteeg has written to you and what he may have said. I’ll do nothing about this without you. Good luck and a handshake.

Ever yours,

Included with the other letters the one from Gauguin, so that you can read them.


Br. 1990: 589 | CL: 470
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Wednesday, 21 or Thursday, 22 March 1888

1. The letter to Bernard is 587; the one to Toulouse-Lautrec is not known. This is the only time that Van Gogh refers to writing to Toulouse-Lautrec; there is no mention of any reply.
2. Van Gogh added the passage ‘I say ... gain more’ (Je dis ... prendre) later.
3. This is letter 586.
4. See for this study, of which only the fragment Walking couple (F 544 / JH 1369 [2572]) survived: letter 587, n. 6.
5. The style described by Van Gogh was in line with the Cloisonnism of Anquetin and Bernard. Cf. letter 575, n. 7 and letter 620, nn. 11 and 12.
6. Guy de Maupassant’s novel Pierre et Jean (1888) had come out in January 1888. It is a Naturalist story about a family that falls apart because of the jealousy and rivalry between the two brothers Pierre and Jean. Maupassant prefaced his novel with an essay titled ‘The Novel’ (‘Le roman’), in which he argues that every literary work should be judged according to the extent that the author has succeeded in realizing his objectives. Modern, Realist writers try to capture ‘Nothing but the truth and the whole truth’ (Rien que la vérité et toute la vérité), but this means anything but a literal rendition: ‘They will often have to correct events in the interests of plausibility and to the detriment of truth, because What is true may sometimes not be plausible.’ (Ils devront souvent corriger les événements au profit de la vraisemblance et au détriment de la vérité, car Le vrai peut quelquefois n’être pas vraisemblable.)
On the freedom that the artist has to exaggerate, he says: ‘The novelist who transforms the unchanging, brutal and disagreeable truth in order to extract from it a singular and appealing adventure should, without excessive concern for plausibility, manipulate events as he pleases, and should prepare and organize them so as to please, move or touch the reader’ (Le romancier qui transforme la vérité constante, brutale et déplaisante, pour en tirer une aventure exceptionnelle et séduisante, doit, sans souci exagéré de la vraisemblance, manipuler les événements à son gré, les préparer et les arranger pour plaire au lecteur, l’émouvoir ou l’attendrir). See Maupassant 1987, pp. 708, 706 respectively.
7. Maupassant quotes from Flaubert: ‘Talent is a matter of patience over time. It involves studying everything one wishes to express, long enough and with enough attention to find an aspect of it that no one has seen or spoken of. There is an element of the unexplored in everything, because we are in the habit of using our eyes only with the memory of what people before us have thought about the things which we are looking at. The smallest thing contains a little of what is unknown. Let us find it ... It is in that way that we become original.’ (Le talent est une longue patience. Il s’agit de regarder tout ce qu’on veut exprimer assez longtemps et avec assez d’attention pour en découvrir un aspect qui n’ait été vu et dit par personne. Il y a, dans tout, de l’inexploré, parce que nous sommes habitués à ne nous servir de nos yeux qu’avec le souvenir de ce qu’on a pensé avant nous sur ce que nous contemplons. La moindre chose contient un peu d’inconnu. Trouvons-le ... C’est de cette façon qu’on devient original.) See Maupassant 1987, p. 713.
8. The door of the Roman Catholic church of St Trophime in Arles. Ill. 2174 [2174].
9. This ‘Chinese’ comparison could be a reference to the ‘vocabulary of the strange, complicated, numerous and Chinese’ (vocabulaire du bizarre, compliqué, nombreux et chinois) which Maupassant speaks out against in his preface to Pierre et Jean (on the page after the quote from Flaubert referred to above). See Maupassant 1987, p. 714.
10. The Roman Emperor Nero, who ruled from AD 54-68. His mention here must have been prompted by the Roman remains in Arles.
11. The first communion of Catholic children had taken place shortly before, on 18 March. See Merlhès 1989, p. 260.
12. The political daily L’Intransigeant, founded in 1880 by Henri Rochefort, had been the organ of General Boulanger’s radical-nationalist party since 1887. There were reports on 20 and 21 March (both times on p. 2) about the problems that the snow was causing in Paris: the traffic was disrupted and people were hurt because of the icy conditions; the city was said to look like St Petersburg.
13. General Georges Boulanger was the leader of the ultra-nationalist party (Boulangists). In 1886 he was appointed War Minister in the Freycinet cabinet. In 1888, however, he was dismissed, partly because of his inflammatory language towards Germany. He was stripped of his powers and ordered not to leave Clermont-Ferrand.
The background to Van Gogh’s remark about ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ is not clear; he is responding to something Theo had written. On 17 March 1888 L’Intransigeant quoted the following statement that the minister of war, General Logerot, with the approval of the President of the Republic, Carnot, had published in the Journal officiel 20 (15 March 1888), no. 74: ‘In spite of these official orders, General Boulanger went to Paris three times: on 24 February, 2 and 10 March; on the latter two occasions in disguise (wearing dark glasses and affecting a limp).’ (Malgré ces ordres formels, M. le général Boulanger est venu trois fois à Paris: le 24 février, le 2 et le 10 mars; ces deux dernières fois sous un déguisement (portant des lunettes foncées et affectant de boîter).) Boulanger denied this story of a disguise in an interview with L’Intransigeant published on 18 May; it subsequently proved that the tale was indeed untrue.