My dear Theo,
I’ve just read Geffroy’s article on Claude Monet.1 What he says is really very good. How I’d love to see that exhibition! If I console myself for not seeing it, it’s because when I look around me there are many things in nature that hardly leave me time to think about anything else. Because it’s harvest time just now.
I had a letter from Bernard, who says he feels very isolated but works all the same — and has written a new poem about himself in which he makes fun of himself in a rather touching way.
And he asks: ‘what’s the use of working’? But he asks that while working; he tells himself that work’s of no use whatsoever, while working — which is not at all the same thing as saying it while not working. I’d very much like to see what he’s doing.
I’m curious to know what Gauguin will do, and if Bernard won’t go to join him in Pont-Aven; I already gave each of them the other’s address a while ago, because they could need one another.2
I’ve had a week of concentrated hard work in the wheatfields right out in the sun, the result was some studies of wheatfields, landscapes3 and — a sketch of a sower. In a ploughed field, a large field of clods of purple earth — rising towards the horizon — a sower in blue and white. On the horizon a field of short, ripe wheat.  1v:2
Above all that a yellow sky with a yellow sun.4
You can sense from the mere nomenclature of the tonalities — that colour plays a very important role in this composition.
And the sketch as such — a no. 25 canvas — also worries me a lot, in the sense that I wonder whether I shouldn’t take it seriously and make a tremendous painting out of it. My God, how I’d love to do that. But I just wonder whether I’ll have the necessary power of execution.
I’m putting the sketch aside just as it is, hardly daring to think about it.
For such a long time it’s been my great desire to do a sower,5 but the desires I’ve had for a long time aren’t always achieved. So I’m almost afraid of them. And yet, after Millet and Lhermitte what remains to be done is... the sower, with colour and in a large format.6
Let’s talk about something else. I have a model at last — a Zouave — he’s a lad with a small face, the neck of a bull, the eye of a tiger, and I started doing one portrait and started again on another.  1v:3 The bust-length I painted of him was terribly hard.7 In a uniform the blue of blue enamel saucepans, with dull orange-red trimmings and two lemon-yellow stars on his chest, a common blue and very hard to do.
I’ve stuck his very tanned, feline head, wearing a bright red cap, in front of a door painted green and the orange bricks of a wall. So it’s a coarse combination of disparate tones that isn’t easy to handle — the study I did of it seems very hard to me, and yet I’d always like to work on portraits that are vulgar, even garish like that one. It teaches me, and that’s what I ask of my work above all. And now the second portrait will be seated; full length, against a white wall.8
Did you notice Dessins Raffaëlli La rue, published recently by Le Figaro? The main one’s just like place Clichy, with all its bustle, it’s really alive.9 Figaro must also have published an issue with drawings by Caran d’Ache.10
In my last letter I forgot to tell you that I received — a fortnight ago now — the consignment of colours from Tasset. I’m badly in need of a new consignment because for these studies of wheatfields and Zouaves I’ve eaten up plenty of tubes. Only a third or half is urgent.11
Among the studies of wheatfields there’s the wheat stacks, for which I’ve sent you the first idea, on a square no. 30 canvas.12  1r:4
The past two days we’ve had torrential rain that lasts all day and will change the appearance of the fields. It came absolutely unexpectedly and suddenly, while everyone was out harvesting. They got most of the wheat in just as it was.13
I’m hoping to do a tour in the Camargue next Friday, with a vet,14 there are bulls and almost wild white horses there, pink flamingos too.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was very beautiful.
The canvas isn’t at all urgent either.
I’m very curious to know what Gauguin will do, but to dare to urge him to come — no — because I’m no longer sure if that would sit well with him. And perhaps — given his large family it’s more his duty in fact to risk some big affairs in order to earn the money to put him at the head of his family again.
I should in any case not like to diminish an individual through an association, and if he feels the desire to try this affair in question he may have his reasons and I wouldn’t like to deflect him from it if in fact he were to be keen on it. Which remains to be seen and which will perhaps emerge from his reply.
More soon, I hope. Handshake, and thanks for the newspaper, and great success with your exhibition.

Yours truly,

What’s père Tanguy doing, have you seen him recently? It’s still fine by me to ask him for paint, even if his isn’t quite as good, but only as long as it’s not too expensive.15


Br. 1990: 631 | CL: 501
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Thursday, 21 June 1888

1. Gustave Geffroy, ‘Dix tableaux de Claude Monet’, La Justice 9 (17 June 1888), no. 3077, pp. 1-2. It emerges from a letter the art critic Gustave Geffroy wrote to Theo on 29 May 1888 that he was planning an article on Van Gogh, for which he evidently wanted to use quotations from the letters to Bernard: ‘In few days’ time, I should be grateful if you would come to Tanguy’s with me, so that I can finish looking at your brother-in-law’s [read: brother’s] work and making my notes. Thank Mr Bernard, please, for the extracts from the letters, which will be returned to him faithfully’ (Dans quelques jours, je vous demanderai de bien vouloir venir avec moi chez Tanguy, où j’achèverai de voir l’oeuvre de votre beau-frère et de prendre mes notes. Remerciez M. Bernard, je vous prie, pour les extraits de lettres, qui lui seront rendues fidèlement) (FR b1199).
2. Bernard went to Pont-Aven in August: see letter 664, n. 2.
3. Van Gogh says that he had been working in the wheatfields for a week. Given that it started raining on 20 June (see Date) he must have begun around 14 June, in other words after finishing The harvest (F 412 / JH 1440 [2621]). He had already told Theo about that painting at length (see letters 623 and 625). The studies of wheatfields he refers to here are Wheatfield with setting sun (F 465 / JH 1473 [2647]), Wheatfield (F 411 / JH 1476 [2649]), Arles seen from the wheatfields (F 545 / JH 1477 [2650]), Wheatfield with sheaves (F 561 / JH 1480 [2651]), Wheatfield with sheaves (F 558 / JH 1481 [2652]) and Wheat stacks (F 425 / JH 1442 [2623]), which is not a wheatfield, but which Van Gogh includes later in the letter among the ‘studies of wheatfields’. He had painted Wheatfield (F 564 / JH 1475 [2648]) previously as a preparatory study for The harvest (F 412 / JH 1440 [2621]); see letter 623, n. 10.
Wheat stacks with reaper (F 559 / JH 1479) was previously regarded as one of the Arles works, but is now placed in the Auvers period. See exhib. cat. Bremen 2002, p. 140, cat. no. 48.
[2621] [2647] [2649] [2650] [2651] [2652] [2623] [2648] [2621]
4. Sower with setting sun (F 422 / JH 1470 [2646]). Van Gogh describes the painting at an earlier stage; he worked on it again soon afterwards (see letter 634).
5. The subject of the sower had already occupied Van Gogh when he was in the Netherlands. See exhib. cat. Paris 1998, pp. 90-105, for an overview.
6. Van Gogh is referring here to Millet’s painting The sower, which he had repeatedly copied from prints in his early years as an artist, and to Léon Augustin Lhermitte’s drawing of the same title, Le semeur [218] (The sower), which he knew from an engraving in Le Monde Illustré. See letters 156, n. 3 and 545, n. 8.
7. Zouave (F 423 / JH 1486 [2655]). A Zouave was a French infantryman trained to serve in Africa. The sitter’s uniform tells us that he was a soldier and trumpeter in the third regiment. See cat. Amsterdam 2007, p. 132.
8. Seated Zouave (F 424 / JH 1488 [2657]).
9. ‘La rue par Jean-François Raffaëlli’, Raffaëlli illustrations lithographed by S. Krakow, accompany an article by Félicien Champsaur about Paris street life, published in Le Figaro. Supplement Litteraire 14 (3 March 1888), no. 9, pp. 1-4. There are 26 drawings altogether; by Place Clichy Van Gogh must have meant the large illustration at the top of p. 2. Ill. 1231 [1231], Ill. 1234 [1234], Ill. 2283 [2283], and Ill. 2284 [2284].
[1231] [1234] [2283] [2284]
10. Caran d’Ache’s contribution was ‘Le Grand Prix dans l’antiquité’, in Le Figaro. Supplément Littéraire 14 (9 June 1888), no. 23, pp. 89-91.
11. Van Gogh had enclosed a paint order for Tasset with letter 613. He had split it in two, and in letter 617 he reported that he had received part of it. The consignment Van Gogh says here he received two weeks ago – in other words on or about 8 June – was probably the second part of that order. It can be inferred from the end of the paragraph and the reference to ‘the canvas’ in l. 108 that he had sent another order with this letter.
12. Vincent had sent the drawing Wheat stacks (F 1425 / JH 1441 [2622]) to Theo (letter 625). This was ‘the first idea’ for the painting Wheat stacks (F 425 / JH 1442 [2623]).
[2622] [2623]
13. L’Homme de Bronze reported on this in the ‘Chronique locale’ of 24 June and 8 July 1888 (quoted in exhib. cat. New York 1984, p. 261).
14. There were three vets in Arles in 1888: Arnaud, 14 rampe du Pont; Autheman, Casimir, 5 place du Forum; and Raynaud, 8 rue de la Cavalerie (L’indicateur marseillais 1888). This was probably Antoine Raynaud, who was a military vet working in the stud farm attached to the barracks. Van Gogh would most likely have made his acquaintance through Second Lieutenant Milliet or the Zouave who was sitting for him at this time. The plan to visit the Camargue did not go ahead (see letter 636); cf. however also letter 657, where he writes of a trip around various farms.
15. See cat. Amsterdam 2011 for the difference in prices at Tanguy’s and Tasset’s.