My dear sister,
I want to answer your letter of this morning straightaway. I’ll probably hear from Paris tomorrow what Theo’s doing, whether he can get away or not. I don’t doubt that he’ll come over if he can. It’s always affecting when someone one knows makes the great journey to that other hemisphere of life whose existence we suspect. And that my best wishes go with today’s traveller goes without saying.
I’m hard at work here. For my part I find the summer here very beautiful, more beautiful than any I ever experienced in the north, but the people here are complaining a great deal that it’s not the same as usual. Rain now and then in a morning or afternoon, but infinitely less than at home. The harvest already long in.
It’s very windy, though, and a very nasty, nagging wind, the mistral, usually troublesome enough when I have to paint in it, like when I lay my canvas flat on the ground and work on my knees. Because the easel doesn’t stand firm.
I have a study of a garden, almost a metre wide. Poppies and other red flowers in green in the foreground, then a patch of bluebells. Then a patch of orange and yellow African marigolds, then white and yellow flowers and finally, in the background, pink and lilac and also scabious, dark violet, and red geraniums and sunflowers and a fig tree and oleander and a vine. At the end, black cypresses against little low white houses with orange roofs — and a delicate green-blue strip of sky.1
I know very well that not a single flower was drawn, that they’re just little licks of colour, red, yellow, orange, green, blue, violet, but the impression of all those colours against one another is nonetheless there in the painting as it is in nature. However, I imagine it would disappoint you and appear ugly were you to see it.2
You see that the motif is really summery.
Uncle Cor has seen work of mine more than once, and he thinks it atrocious.
I’m now working on the portrait of a postman with his dark blue uniform with yellow.
A head something like that of Socrates, almost no nose, a high forehead, bald pate, small grey eyes, high-coloured full cheeks, a big beard, pepper and salt, big ears.3 The man is a fervent republican and socialist, reasons very well and knows many things. His wife gave birth today and so he’s in really fine feather and glowing with satisfaction.4
In fact I much prefer to paint something like this than flowers.
But seeing as one can do the one and not neglect the other, I just take the opportunities as they arise.
I also have the portrait of a girl of 12, brown eyes, black hair and eyebrows, yellowish matt complexion.
She sits in a cane chair, a blood-red and violet striped jacket, a deep blue skirt with orange dots, a branch of oleander in her hand.
The background light green, almost white.5
And I always seek the same thing, a portrait, a landscape, a landscape and a portrait.
I hope I’ll also get to paint the baby born today.
I also have a garden without flowers, that’s to say a lawn, just mown, very green, with the grey hay spread out in long rows.
A weeping ash and some cedars and cypresses, the cedars yellowish and spherical, the cypresses rising high, blue-green. At the end oleander and a corner of green-blue sky. The blue cast shadows of the bushes on the grass.6
Also a portrait bust of a Zouave, blue uniform with red and yellow facings, sky-blue sash, blood-red cap with blue tassel, tanned by the sun — black hair cut short — eyes like a cat’s, watchful — orange and green, a small head on a neck like a bull’s. The background in this one is a harsh green door, and some orange bricks of the wall and the white plaster.7
What you ask, whether it’s true that I’m going to live with someone else. That’s really quite possible, and with a very spirited painter at that who, however, has a life full of cares like the other Impressionists. And the fortunate owner of a liver complaint. Theo once bought from him a large painting of negresses dressed in pink, blue, orange, yellow cotton under the tamarind, coconut and banana trees, with the sea in the distance.8 Like Le mariage de Loti, that description of Otaheite.9 He’s been in Martinique, you see, and he’s worked in that tropical scenery.10 We also have a second painting by him which he exchanged for a study of mine, a dried-up river with purple mud and pools of water that reflect the pure cobalt blue of the sky, green grass. A negro boy with a red and white cow, a negress in blue, and some green forest.11 He’s someone who works like one possessed, and he does all sorts of things; he’s in Brittany now.
We’d live together for the sake of economy and for each other’s company.
If he or I sells something one of these days so that he can make the journey, then he’ll come here. It’s not impossible that something may yet intervene, but it’s still really quite possible that it will happen. And even if it didn’t happen and even if I continued working alone, at any rate working in the same direction as other fellows, although each retains his own manner, means that there’s a certain amount of comradeship and sometimes interesting correspondence.
How’s it going with your health? Well, I hope. Above all you must try to be outside a very great deal. I quite often have trouble here with not being able to eat, something more or less like you had in the past. But I manage to steer clear of the rocks. Anyone who isn’t strong must be clever; with our constitutions you and I should take that to heart.
Anyway the work, when it progresses, helps a lot.
I find it mightily beautiful here in summer, the green is very deep and lush, the air thin and amazingly clear. And yet the wide plain would often look very like Holland — here where there are almost no mountains and rocks — if the colour weren’t different. What amuse me greatly are the more colourful clothes, the women and girls dressed in cheap, simple fabric, but green, red, pink, yellow, Havana, purple, blue, spotted, striped. White scarves, red, green and yellow parasols. A great sun like sulphur that shines on them, the vast blue sky, sometimes it’s as immensely cheerful as Holland is sad.
Pity that everyone doesn’t have those two extremes.
I must end now. Uncle’s death is a big event for Ma and you, and above all for Aunt. The impression on me is very strange because of course I picture the man from memories of so long ago, of much earlier times, and it seems to me so peculiar that someone one has known at such close quarters has become such a stranger. You’ll be able to understand this. Looked at like this, life is so like a dream, and from the moment that it becomes simplified again and that sick man undertakes his great journey, one understands it better, and it’s certain that I feel about it very much as you do. Theo will also feel it greatly; he had much more to do with Uncle than I.
How’s Ma doing at present?
I often think about you both, and I wish you the best from the bottom of my heart.
I’m up to my eyes in work, so I seldom have anything else in my head.
My address is
2 Place Lamartine
If you can do it, keep an eye open for those particular books and prints of mine.13