My dear Theo,
What you write about your visit to Gruby has upset me, but at the same time it reassures me that you went there.
Have you considered that your lethargy — a feeling of extreme lassitude — could have been caused by this heart condition, and that in that case potassium iodide couldn’t be blamed for these periods of stupefied exhaustion?1 If you remember how stupefied I was myself this winter, to the point of being quite incapable! of doing anything whatsoever, apart from a little painting, although I wasn’t taking potassium iodide at all. So if I were you, I’d have it out with Rivet if Gruby tells you not to take it.
And it will in any case — I have no doubt about it — be your intention to be friends with both the one and the other.
I often think of Gruby here and now, and in short I feel well, but it’s because here I have the pure air and the heat, which make things more possible for me. Among all the trials and the bad air of Paris, Rivet takes things as they are without trying to create a paradise and without in the slightest way trying to make us perfect. But he forges a suit of armour, or rather, he inures us to illness and keeps morale up, I find, by making fun of the trouble we have.  1v:2
So if you could now have just one year of living in the country and close to nature, that would make Gruby’s treatment much easier. So I think he’ll urge you not to see women except in case of necessity, but as little as possible. Now for myself, I feel fine here in that respect, but here, since I have work and nature, and if I didn’t have that I’d become melancholy. As long as work has some appeal for you over there, and the Impressionists are going well, that would be a great gain. Because loneliness, worries, vexations, the need for friendship and fellow-feeling not sufficiently met, that’s what’s very bad, the mental emotions of sadness or disappointments undermine us more than riotous living: us, that is, who find ourselves the happy owners of troubled hearts.
I think potassium iodide purifies the blood and the whole system, doesn’t it — will you be able to do without it? Anyway, you’ll have to have a straight talk  1v:3 about it with Rivet, who shouldn’t be jealous.
I could wish you had near you something more rudely alive, warmer than the Dutch — but all the same, Koning with his whims is an exception for the better. Anyway, it’s always good to have somebody. But I could still wish you had one or two good friends among the French. Would you do me a great favour: my friend the Dane, who leaves for Paris on Tuesday,2 will give you 2 small paintings — nothing much — that I’d like to give to Mme the Countess De la Boissière at Asnières. She stays in boulevard Voltaire, on the first floor of the first house at the end of the Clichy bridge. Père Perruchot’s restaurant is on the ground floor.3 Would you take them to her personally on my behalf, saying I had hopes of seeing her again this spring and that even here I haven’t forgotten her; I gave them 2 small ones last year as well, her and her daughter. I’d have hope that you wouldn’t regret making these ladies’ acquaintance. After all, they’re a family. The countess is far from young but she’s first of all a countess, then a lady, the daughter ditto.  1r:4
And it makes sense for you to go, since I can’t be sure that the family’s staying in the same place this year (however, they’ve been coming there for several years, and Perruchot must know their address in town).4 Perhaps I’m deluding myself — but I can’t help thinking of them, and perhaps it will be a pleasure for them and for you too, if you meet them.
Listen — I’ll do all I can to send you some new drawings for Dordrecht.5
This week I’ve done two still lifes.

A blue enamelled tin coffee-pot, a royal blue and gold cup (on the left), a pale blue and white chequered milk jug, a cup — on the right — white, with blue and orange designs, on a yellow grey earthenware plate, a blue barbotine or majolica jug with red, green, brown designs, and lastly 2 oranges and 3 lemons; the table is covered with a blue cloth, the background is yellow green, making 6 different blues and 4 or 5 yellows and oranges.6
The other still life is the majolica jug with wild flowers.7  2r:5
I thank you very much for your letter and for the 50-franc note. I hope the crate will reach you in the next few days. The next time I think I’ll take the canvases off the stretching frames and send them rolled, by fast service. I think you’ll soon make friends with this Dane — he doesn’t do much but — he has intelligence and a good heart, and he probably started painting not long ago.8 Take him out a bit one Sunday to get to know him.
For myself, I feel infinitely better, my blood is circulating well, and my stomach’s digesting. I’ve found very, very good food now, which had an immediate effect on me.
Have you seen Gruby’s face when he pinches his lips tight and says ‘No women’? It would make a really good Degas, that face, like that. But there’s nothing to be said against it, because when you have to work all day long with your brain, calculating, thinking, planning business, that’s quite enough in itself for your nerves. So go off now and visit women in the world of artists and suchlike, you’ll see you’ll succeed — really. You’ll see it’ll work out like that and you won’t lose much, will you?
I still haven’t been able to make a deal with the furniture dealer, I’ve seen a bed but it’s dearer than I thought. I feel the need to get more work done before spending more on furniture.
My lodgings cost me 1 franc a night. I’ve bought more linen and colours as well.  2v:6
I’ve bought some very strong linen.
Just as my blood is returning to normal, so the idea of succeeding is returning to me too. I shouldn’t be too surprised if your illness was also a reaction to this dreadful winter, which lasted an age. And then it will go the same way as with me; take as much spring air as possible, go to bed very early because you’ll need to sleep; and then food, lots of fresh vegetables and no bad wine or bad liquor. And very few women and a great deal of patience. If it doesn’t clear up at once that doesn’t matter. And now Gruby will give you a heavy meat diet over there. Here, for myself, I couldn’t take very much, and it’s not necessary here. It’s just my stupefaction that’s going away, I don’t feel as much need to amuse myself, I’m less at the mercy of my passions and I can work more calmly, I could be alone without being bored. I came out of it feeling a little older, but no sadder.
I wouldn’t believe you if in your next letter you told me there was nothing wrong with you any more; it’s perhaps a more serious change and I shouldn’t be surprised if, during the time it will take you to recover, you had some dejection. There is and there remains and it always comes back at times, in the midst of the artistic life, a yearning for — real life — ideal and not attainable.  3r:7
And we sometimes lack the desire to throw ourselves head first into art again and to build ourselves up for that. We know we’re cab-horses and that it’ll be the same cab we’re going to be harnessed to again. And so we don’t feel like doing it and we’d prefer to live in a meadow with a sun, a river, the company of other horses who are also free, and the act of generation. And perhaps in the final account your heart condition comes partly from there; it wouldn’t greatly surprise me. We no longer rebel against things, we’re not resigned either — we’re ill and it’s not going to get any better — and we can’t do anything specific about it. I don’t know who called this condition being struck by death and immortality.9 The cab we drag along must be of use to people we don’t know. But you see, if we believe in the new art, in the artists of the future, our presentiment doesn’t deceive us. When good père Corot said a few days before he died: last night I saw in my dreams landscapes with entirely pink skies,10 well, didn’t they come, those pink skies, and yellow and green into the bargain, in Impressionist landscapes? All this is to say there are things one senses in the future and that really come about.  3v:8 .
And we, who, I’m inclined to believe, are by no means so close to dying, nevertheless feel the thing is bigger than us and longer-lasting than our lives.
We don’t feel we’re dying, but we feel the reality of the fact that we’re not much, and that to be a link in the chain of artists we pay a steep price in health, youth, freedom, which we don’t enjoy at all, any more than the cab-horse that pulls a carriage full of people who, unlike him, are going out to enjoy the springtime. Well then — what I wish you as well as myself is to succeed in recovering our health, because we’ll need it. That Hope of Puvis de Chavannes11 is such a reality. There’s an art in the future and it will surely be so beautiful and so young that, really, if at present we leave it our own youth, we can only gain in tranquillity. Perhaps it’s too silly to write all this, but it’s what I felt; it seemed that like me, you suffered to see your youth going up in — smoke — but if it comes back and appears in what we do, there’s nothing lost, and the power to work is a second youth. So be serious about getting better, because we’ll need our health. I shake your hand firmly, and Koning’s too.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 613 | CL: 489
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Sunday, 20 May 1888

1. It is not clear what specific symptoms led Theo to consult Dr Gruby, but the physician evidently diagnosed the ‘heart disease’, about which nothing further is explained. Vincent suggests that Theo’s fatigue and lassitude result from the heart problem, so that the cause was not the potassium iodide that Theo was taking. At the time this was a widely prescribed remedy for a cough, something from which Theo frequently suffered. Potassium iodide was also much used in cases of cerebral syphilis, the disease that killed Theo in January 1891. Since Vincent starts the letter by confessing straightaway that he was ‘upset’ by Theo’s news, a connection with this illness seems the most obvious. See on Theo’s illness Voskuil 1992-2 (and the associated reactions). Vincent continued to enquire after Theo’s health until well into October (letter 705).
a. Read: ‘demeure’.
3. In 1886 Eugène Levaillant de la Boissière (age 45, of independent means), his wife Clara Levaillant de la Boissière (age 29) and their 12-year-old daughter Eugénie Jeanne were registered as the occupants of an apartment on the first floor of 1 boulevard de Clichy. Nothing more is known about the family. Marcelin Perruchot’s restaurant was on the ground floor; he was also a wine merchant in Asnières. See exhib. cat. Martigny 2000, pp. 142-146. Van Gogh had done a lot of work in the immediate vicinity, and depicted the building in Bank of the Seine with the Clichy bridge (F 302 / JH 1322), The Seine with the Clichy bridge (F 303 / JH 1323 [2553]) and Trees on a slope (F 291 / JH 1314).
b. Read: ‘demeure’.
4. From what Van Gogh says, it would appear that the family lived in Paris (‘in town’) and only stayed in Asnières during the summer. He says that the countess is ‘far from young’, but he has either seriously overestimated her age or is referring to an older woman, possibly the count’s mother, so that the ‘daughter’ – who is also ‘a lady’ – is the count’s 29-year-old wife, not the 12-year-old girl. No further details have been found in the records in Asnières.
It emerges from a note dated 9 November 1929 in the archives of the Thannhauser art gallery that the Charpentier gallery had sold five small paintings by Van Gogh that belonged to ‘a family from Asnières with whom Van Gogh had lived and to whom he had given them’ (‘einer Familie aus Asnières, bei der Van Gogh wohnte und die er dieser schenkte’). See Heinz Holtmann et al., Thannhauser: Händler, Sammler, Stifter. Cologne 2006, p. 48. This must be a reference to the Levaillant de la Boissière family (although Van Gogh never lived with them). The works in question were Woman sewing (F 126a / JH 655), 42.5 x 33 cm; Head of a woman (F 146a / JH 565), 43.5 x 37 cm; The viaduct (F 239 / JH 1267), 32.7 x 41 cm; Woman peeling potatoes (F 365r / JH 654), which had the Self-portrait with a straw hat on the back (F 365v / JH 1354), 41 x 31.5 cm; and Landscape with snow (F 290 / JH 1360 [2564]), 38 x 46 cm. See J. B. de la Faille, 'Sammler und Markt. Unbekannte bilder von Vincent van Gogh', Der Cicerone, February 1927, pp. 101-105. F 290 must have been one of the two small paintings that Van Gogh gave to Mourier in Arles to deliver to Theo in Paris. The other one has not been identified. It is not possible to make out which of the remaining four works were the ‘2 small ones’ he gave the family ‘last year’.
[704] [705] [2564]
5. Evidently Theo had asked Vincent to send drawings for the second exhibition of the Nederlandsche Etsclub, which was to be held at Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam. Vincent mentions Dordrecht because the artist and critic Jan Veth of Dordrecht was organizing the exhibition – in a letter of 15 May, Veth had asked Theo to loan etchings, lithographs and drawings (FR b3573). See also letter 620, n. 5.
6. Still life with coffee pot (F 410 / JH 1426 [2609]). In the margin next to the letter sketch of the same name after the work (F - / JH 1427) Van Gogh noted that it was a no. 30 canvas, whereas it is actually a no. 25 ‘figure’ canvas, 81 x 65 cm. Cf. exhib. cat. New York 1984, p. 46. He omitted the painted border in the letter sketch and in the sketch he sent to Bernard with letter 622.
It seems obvious that Van Gogh painted this still life and the one referred to below on 16 and 17 May, because it rained on those days and he could not work outdoors (Météo-France).
7. Wild flowers in a majolica jug (F 600 / JH 1424 [2607]).
8. Contrary to what Van Gogh thought, the Dane had actually been painting for longer than he had himself. Mourier-Petersen attended the academy in Copenhagen from 1880 to 1883 and was a member of the group of dissident artists there who wanted to establish a free academy. He had evidently been reticent about his background. See Larsson 1993, pp. 12-13, 18.
9. Daudet, Le Nabab, chap. 14. See Daudet 1986-1994, vol. 2, p. 675.
10. Burty’s preface to Exposition de l’oeuvre de Corot, the catalogue of the Corot exhibition of 1875, begins with these words of Corot’s; Van Gogh had been to the exhibition (letter 34): ‘On one of the last mornings before his death, Corot said to one of his friends: “Last night I saw in my dreams a landscape in which the sky was entirely pink. The clouds were pink too. It was delightful. I remember it very clearly. It will be wonderful to paint”’ (Un des derniers matins qui précédèrent sa mort, Corot dit à un de ses amis: “J’ai vu cette nuit en rêve un paysage dont le ciel était tout rose. Les nuages aussi étaient roses. C’était délicieux. Je me le rappelle très bien. Ce sera admirable à peindre.”) See exhib. cat. Paris 1875-2, p. 5. See also letter 439, n. 13.
11. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Hope, c. 1872 (Paris, Musée d’Orsay). Ill. 315 [315]. Van Gogh saw this work at the Puvis de Chavannes retrospective which ran from 20 November to 20 December 1887 at Durand-Ruel’s, where it was exhibited as cat. no. 30. We know from letter 829 that he had been to this exhibition.