1. References to the book of Exodus and the Gospel of St Luke.
2. Van Gogh wrote either ‘outre’ or ‘autre’, but neither reading is entirely clear. The version printed here corresponds with the one in Lettres à Bernard 1911, p. 109. The alternative would be: ‘Mais la consolation ... nous navre pour de bon tout autre par ...’ (But the consolation ... thorougly spoils everything else for us by ...).
3. Van Gogh is thinking here in the first place of Delacroix’s painting Christ asleep during the tempest [61], which he mentions later in the letter. The works by Rembrandt he must have had in mind would have been the print Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane [1883] (see letter 148) and the painting The pilgrims at Emmaus [1710] (see letter 34). In saying that Millet painted the doctrine of Christ, he means that Millet’s work expresses the values that Christ preached, such as love of one’s fellow man, humility and simplicity.
[61] [1883] [1710]
4. Whether he knew it or not, Van Gogh’s ideas tied in with the Renaissance view that Christ was an artist, with visual artists in their turn being compared to him. See Kris and Kurz 1979, esp. pp. 64-86 (‘Deus artifex – Divino artista’), and Greer 2000.
5. Cf. John 5:21, Rom. 8:11 and 1 Cor. 15:22.
6. For the parable of the sower and the seed see Matt. 13:3-23, Mark 4:3-29 and Luke 8:5-15; and for that of the fig-tree Matt. 21:19-22, Mark 11:12-26 and Luke 13:6-9.
7. Matt. 24:35. The prediction about the destruction of the buildings is in Matt. 24:2.
8. St Luke was also associated with Van Gogh’s ideal of collaboration among artists; see letter 643.
9. In one of his earlier letters Van Gogh attributed this saying to Jean Richepin; see letter 572, n. 2. The precise source has not been identified.
10. Asnières lies to the north of Paris and was where Bernard’s parents lived. Van Gogh would have cited this place, rather than anywhere else, as an example because he and Bernard painted there together in 1887.
11. There is a good chance that Van Gogh is ringing the changes here on what Silvestre said about Delacroix – ‘neither teeth nor breath’ – which he quotes on several occasions; see letter 557, n. 6.
12. Eugène Delacroix, Christ asleep during the tempest, c. 1853 (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Ill. 61 [61]. It is clear that this is the version of the painting he is referring to (Delacroix painted several) from the fact that elsewhere Vincent writes that he and Theo had seen it at the commercial exhibition of John Saulnier’s collection (letter 676, n. 15).
The phrase ‘the terrifying emerald sea’ echoes what Paul Mantz had written about the painting in his article ‘La collection John Saulnier’ in Le Temps of Thursday 3 June 1886: ‘We did not know, before seeing this picture, that it was possible to achieve so terrifying an effect with blue’ (Nous ne savions pas, avant d’avoir vu ce tableau, qu’il fût possible d’arriver à un effet aussi terrible avec du bleu). Van Gogh paraphrased Mantz’s words in letter 676 to Theo.
13. Seated Zouave (F 1443 / JH 1485 [2654]).
14. Seated Zouave (F 424 / JH 1488 [2657]).
15. Zouave (F 423 / JH 1486 [2655]).
16. Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant had a studio in the Impasse Hélène in Montmartre. See Milner 1988, pp. 22-23.
17. See for Bernard’s Brothel scene [2322]: letter 630, n. 4.
18. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, The beheading of Saint John the Baptist, 1869 (Birmingham, The University of Birmingham, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts). Ill. 317 [317]. Van Gogh had seen the painting at an exhibition at Durand-Ruel’s (20 November-20 December 1887), at the time when he and Bernard were going around together in Paris. See exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1994-1, pp. 127-129, cat. no. 57.
19. Van Gogh had earlier applied the term ‘magician’ to Rembrandt. He had borrowed it from Michelet, L’amour. See letter 534, n. 16.
20. John the Baptist bearing witness is in John 1:19-34. The quotation is from John 1:20-25.
21. Biblical; possibly an allusion to 1 Kings 21:20.
22. Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein were Protestant artists in the circle around Martin Luther.
Bernard wrote to Andries Bonger about this passage on 31 December 1892: ‘What do you think of this idea, for example: Luther is the great light of the Middle Ages. Luther in the Middle Ages and an assertion of that kind, that could damage Vincent... Should such things be included? Tell me frankly what you think.’ (Que pensez vous par exemple de cette idée: Luther c’est la grande lumière du moyen-age. Luther au moyen age et une telle assertion cela pourrait nuire a Vincent... faut il mettre ces choses? Dites moi franchement votre avis) (Amsterdam, RPK, inv. no. F 735). Bernard evidently wanted to protect Van Gogh from his supposed errors or exaggerations and consequently replaced Van Gogh’s ‘Middle Ages’ with ‘the Renaissance’ in the Mercure version. In the Vollard edition he opted for a different solution: there he reproduced the passage correctly, but noted that he did not share Van Gogh’s views (see n. 23).
23. Although Bernard evidently shared Van Gogh’s opinion of King Louis xiv at the time, he later noted against this passage (and the one about Luther): ‘so many ideas that I do not share, despite my great friendship for Vincent’ (‘autant d’idées que je ne partage pas, malgré ma grande amitié pour Vincent’). See Lettres à Bernard 1911, p. 113.
24. A reference to the glorious Temple of Solomon on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The biblical books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs are attributed to Solomon, the third king of Israel, who reigned from 993 to 953 BC.
Van Gogh’s characterization of Louis xiv and Solomon, the fact that he speaks of them in the same breath, and his disapproval of Solomon’s writings display remarkable parallels with some passages in Ernest Renan’s ‘Règne de Salomon’. Strangely enough, though, to the best of our knowledge that article was first published in Revue des Deux Mondes 58 (1 August 1888), 3rd series, vol. 88, pp. 536-570 (esp. 539-540, 547, 565), in other words two months after Van Gogh wrote his letter. However, it is not impossible that the passages in question had previously appeared in some other publication.
Van Gogh writes ‘quel emmerdeur en tout, cet espèce de Salomon méthodiste’. Gauguin used precisely the same word, ‘quel emmerdeur de Salomon’, in a letter to Emile Schuffenecker dated to the last ten days of August 1888, so Bernard must have shown him Van Gogh’s letters. See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, pp. 216, 498-499 (n. 272) and Merlhès 1989, pp. 87-89.
25. Paul Eugène Milliet.
26. Paulus Potter, The piebald horse, 1653 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 469 [469]. The animal is not as aroused as Van Gogh makes out; it evidently amused him to lay it on a bit thick for Bernard. Potter’s painting measures 41 x 30 cm, so is the size of a no. 6 canvas.
a. Read: ‘quoi que ce soit’.
27. Here he is referring to the poems on the back of the drawing Brothel scene [2322], see letter 630, n. 6. He discussed them at greater length in the postscript to letter 633, which was actually intended for the present letter.