My dear Theo,
Thank you a thousand times for your kind letter and the 300 francs it contained1 — after some weeks of worries I’ve just had a much better one. And just as worries don’t come singly, nor do joys, either. Because actually, always bowed down under this money problem with lodging-house keepers, I put up with it cheerfully. I’d given a piece of my mind to the said lodging-house keeper,2 who isn’t a bad man after all, and I’d told him that to get my own back on him for having paid him so much money for nothing, I’d paint his whole filthy old place as a way of getting my money back. Well, to the great delight of the lodging-house keeper, the postman whom I’ve already painted,3 the prowling night-visitors and myself, for 3 nights I stayed up to paint, going to bed during the day. It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly coloured than the day. Now as for recovering the money paid to the landlord through my painting, I’m not making a point of it, because the painting is one of the ugliest I’ve done. It’s the equivalent, though different, of the potato eaters.4  1v:2
I’ve tried to express the terrible human passions with the red and the green.5
The room is blood-red and dull yellow, a green billiard table in the centre, 4 lemon yellow lamps with an orange and green glow. Everywhere it’s a battle and an antithesis of the most different greens and reds; in the characters of the sleeping ruffians, small in the empty, high6 room, some purple and blue. The blood-red and the yellow-green of the billiard table, for example, contrast with the little bit of delicate Louis XV green of the counter, where there’s a pink bouquet.
The white clothes of the owner, watching over things from a corner in this furnace, become lemon yellow, pale luminous green.7
I’m making a drawing of it in watercolour tones to send you tomorrow, to give you an idea of it.8
I’ve written to Gauguin and to Bernard this week, but I didn’t talk about anything but paintings, just so as not to quarrel, when there’s probably no reason to. But whether or not Gauguin comes, if I buy furniture, then we have, in  1v:3 a good place or a bad, that’s another question — a pied-à-terre, a home that lifts from the mind this melancholy of being on the street. Which is nothing when you’re a 20-year-old adventurer, but which is bad when you’ve turned 35.
I see in L’Intransigeant today the suicide of Mr Bing Lévy. Not possible, is it, that that could be Bing’s manager, Lévy?? I think it must be somebody else.9
It gives me great pleasure that Pissarro found something in the young girl.10 Did Pissarro say anything about the sower?11
Later on, when I’ve taken those experiments further, the sower will still be the first attempt in that genre.
The night café is a continuation of the sower, as is the head of the old peasant12 and of the poet, if I manage to do the latter painting.13 It’s a colour, then, that isn’t locally true from the realist point of view of trompe l’oeil, but a colour suggesting some emotion, an ardent temperament.14  1r:4
When Paul Mantz saw Delacroix’s violent and exalted sketch, Christ’s boat, at the exhibition that we saw in the Champs-Elysées, he turned away from it and cried out in his article, ‘I did not know that one could be so terrifying with blue and green’.15
Hokusai makes you cry out the same thing — but in his case with his lines, his drawing, since in your letter you say to yourself: these waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it.16 Ah well, if we made the colour very correct or the drawing very correct, we wouldn’t create those emotions.
Anyway, soon — tomorrow or the day after — I’ll write to you again on this subject and will reply to your letter, sending you croquis of the night café. Tasset’s consignment has arrived; I’ll write to you tomorrow on the subject of this coarse paint.17 Milliet will come to say hello to you one of these days; he writes me that he’s going to come back. Thank you once again for the money sent. If I was first going to look for another place, isn’t it likely that then there would be new expenses in that, at least equivalent to the costs of moving? And moreover, would I find better right away? I’m very glad indeed to be able to furnish my house, and that can only help me get on. So many thanks and good handshake; till tomorrow.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 679 | CL: 533
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, 8 September 1888

1. In letter 664 Vincent had asked Theo for a loan of 300 francs to buy furniture for the Yellow House.
2. This must be Joseph Ginoux, from whom Van Gogh rented a room in the Café de la Gare; see letter 606.
3. Van Gogh had painted two portraits of Roulin in late July and early August: Joseph Roulin (F 432 / JH 1522 [2672]) and Joseph Roulin (F 433 / JH 1524 [2673]).
[2672] [2673]
4. The potato eaters (F 82 / JH 764 [2510]).
5. Silvestre drew a similar parallel between the use of colour and human emotions in Eugène Delacroix. Documents nouveaux, with which Van Gogh was familiar. On Delacroix’s landscapes he wrote: ‘The outside world, reflected or rather transformed by the imagination, is either bright or gloomy in these landscapes, light and colour either harmonize with or contrast with the nature of human emotions’ (La nature ectérieure, réfléchie ou plutôt transfigurée par l’imagination, rayonne ou s’assombrit dans ces paysages; la lumière et la couleur s’y associent ou s’y opposent au caractère des passions humaines) (Silvestre 1864, p. 4).
6. The reading of the words ‘et haute’ (and high) is uncertain. In Brieven 1914 and Verzamelde brieven 1952-1954 they were taken to be ‘et triste’ (and sad); Dorn suggested that they read ‘et lente’ (and slow), while in his own copy of Dorn’s book Hulsker noted that he could ‘almost certainly’ make out the words ‘et brute’ (and rough) (Dorn 1990, p. 267 (n. 180), Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum Library). However, none of the suggested solutions is really satisfactory.
7. The night café (F 463 / JH 1575 [2711]). Van Gogh was already making plans for this painting in letter 656.
8. The drawing after the above painting is The night café (F 1463 / JH 1576 [0]).
9. The former banker Lazare Lévy-Bing had killed himself. The report ‘Le suicide de M. Lévy Bing’ in L’Intransigeant of 8 September 1888 says that his body was found on the bank of the River Saint-Cucula in the district of Rueil. Cf. for Lévy, Bing’s branch manager: letter 637, n. 16.
10. Camille Pissarro had been to see Theo in the afternoon of Thursday, 6 September 1888, as we can make out from a letter he wrote to his son Lucien. See Correspondance Pissarro 1980-1991, vol. 2, pp. 250-252 (letter 505). Theo had shown Pissarro the painting Mousmé (F 431 / JH 1519 [2671]).
11. Sower with setting sun (F 422 / JH 1470 [2646]).
12. Van Gogh had painted two portraits of the peasant: Patience Escalier (‘The peasant’) (F 443 / JH 1548 [2694]) and Patience Escalier (‘The peasant’) (F 444 / JH 1563 [2705]). He would have been referring here to the latter portrait; he had a frame made for it so he must have considered it to be the more successful of the two (see letter 673).
[2694] [2705]
13. Eugène Boch (‘The poet’) (F 462 / JH 1574 [2710]).
14. Cf. Zola’s description of a good work of art: ‘A work of art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament’, see letter 361, n. 9.
15. At the beginning of June 1886 Vincent and Theo had been to see the sale exhibition of John Saulnier’s collection at the Drouot auction house; among the works on show was Delacroix’s Christ asleep during the tempest [61]. The sale was on 5 June, the viewing days were 2 and 4 June (Lugt 1938-1987, no. 48531) See auct. cat. Paris 1886, and Johnson 1981-1989, vol. 3, pp. 232-238. See also letter 632, n. 12. Paul Mantz actually wrote in his article ‘La collection John Saulnier’, printed 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.)
a. Read: ‘puisque’.
16. Theo must have written about an impression of the famous colour woodcut The great wave in the series Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, c. 1831, which Vincent very much wanted to have (see letter 640). Hokusai made at least three versions of this composition, including The underwave off Kanagawa, c. 1831 (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 2241 [2241]. See Hokusai and his school. Japanese prints c. 1800-1840. Catalogue of the collection of Japanese prints, part iii. Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet/Rijksmuseum. Charlotte van Rappard-Boon et al. Amsterdam 1982, p. 45.
17. This was the paint order enclosed with letter 668. See also letter 674, Arrangement and n. 6.