From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, on or about Tuesday, 21 August 1888
Collection Anne-Marie Springer
This letter was written in reply to one from Bernard that Van Gogh mentions in letter 664 to Theo of 19 or 20 August. Both these letters must have been written at about the same time, but because the one to Theo says nothing about the plan for a sunflower series outlined here (ll. 58-60), we assume that the letter to Bernard is the later of the two, and we have therefore dated it on or about Tuesday, 21 August 1888.
The letter is the first of a series that were written during the period when Van Gogh was working on his decoration. The dating of some of the letters is somewhat arbitrary, but the sequence of letters 665 to 671 is definite.
Van Gogh must have embarked on his sunflower series around 20 August. The plan is mentioned for the first time in the present letter, and work has only just started; he is also working on a study of thistles. Sunflowers and thistles are also mentioned in letter 666, but there Van Gogh refers to a letter he had had from Gauguin, which is not mentioned in this one. Letter 666 must therefore have been written after the present one (though probably not long after), so we have dated it Tuesday, 21 or Wednesday, 22 August. Letter 667 was enclosed with 666 and has consequently been given the same date.
In letter 668 there is no further mention of the thistles and Van Gogh is working on a fourth painting of sunflowers. This letter must have preceded letter 669 because in that one the fourth and – for the time being – last in the series appears to be finished or nearly so. Van Gogh says in letter 668 that he expects to be strapped for cash by the end of the week (l. 51), which implies that the letter was written before the weekend; we have therefore dated it Thursday, 23 or Friday, 24 August.
In letter 669 Van Gogh confirmed receipt of 50 francs, the fourth instalment of his allowance for August, so it can be dated on or about Sunday, 26 August (it emerges from letter 672 that the money arrived on Saturday); letter 670 has been given the same date on the assumption that it was enclosed with it. Letter 671, lastly, was written shortly before the end of the month, and must date from Wednesday, 29 or Thursday, 30 August 1888. By then Van Gogh was working on other studies.