My dear Gauguin,
This morning, I received your excellent letter, which I’ve immediately sent to my brother;1 your conception of the Impressionist in general, of which your portrait2 is a symbol, is striking. I couldn’t be more intrigued to see it — but it will seem to me, I’m already sure, that this work is too important for me to wish to have it as an exchange.
But if you wish to keep it for us, my brother will buy it from you, as I immediately asked him, at the first opportunity if you wish, and let’s hope that will be very soon.
Because we’ll try once again to urge the possibility of your coming.
I must tell you that even while working I never cease to think about this enterprise of setting up a studio with yourself and me as permanent residents, but which we’d both wish to make into a shelter and a refuge for our pals at moments when they find themselves at an impasse in their struggle. When you left Paris,3 my brother and I spent more time there together that will always remain unforgettable to me. Our discussions took on a broader scope — with Guillaumin, with Pissarro, father and son, with Seurat, whom I didn’t know (I visited his studio just a few hours before my departure).4 In these discussions, it was often a matter of the thing that’s so dear to our hearts, both my brother’s and mine, the steps to be taken in order to preserve the financial existence of painters, and to preserve the means of production (colours, canvases), and to preserve directly to them their share in the price
1v:2 that their paintings at present fetch only when they have long ceased to be the property of the artists.
When you’re here we’ll go back over all those discussions.
In any event, when I left Paris very, very upset, quite ill and almost an alcoholic through overdoing it, while my strength was abandoning me — then I withdrew into myself, and without daring to hope yet.
At present, dimly on the horizon, here it comes to me nevertheless — hope —that intermittent hope that has sometimes consoled me in my lonely life.5
Now I’d like to see you taking a very large share in this belief that we’ll be relatively successful in founding something lasting.
When we’ll talk about those strange days of discussions in the poor studios and the cafés of the Petit Boulevard,6 and you’ll see in full our idea, my brother’s and mine, which hasn’t in any way been carried out, in terms of forming an association.
Nevertheless, you’ll see that it is such that everything that we’ll do in future to remedy the terrible state of these past few years will either be just what we said, or something similar to it. So unshakeable a basis will we have given the thing. And you’ll admit, when you have the full explanation, that we’ve gone well beyond the plan we’ve already told you about. It’s no more than our duty as picture dealers to have gone further, because you perhaps know that I too spent years in the trade, and I don’t look down on a profession in which I’ve eaten my daily bread.
Suffice it to say that I don’t believe that even when apparently cutting yourself off from Paris you will cease to feel that you’re in fairly direct contact with Paris.
I have an extraordinary fever for work these days, at present I’m grappling with a landscape with blue sky above an immense green, purple, yellow vine with black and orange shoots.
Little figures of ladies with red sunshades, little figures of grape-pickers with their cart further liven it up.
Foreground of grey sand. Once again square no. 30 canvas for the decoration of the house.7
I have a portrait of myself, all ash-coloured. The ashy colour that comes from mixing Veronese with orange lead, on a pale background of uniform Veronese, with a red-brown garment.8 But exaggerating my personality also, I looked more for the character of a bonze, a simple worshipper of the eternal Buddha.9 It cost me a good deal of trouble, but I’ll have to do it all over again if I want to express the thing. I’ll have to cure myself even further of the conventional numbness of our so-called civilized state, in order to have a better model for a better painting.
Something that gave me enormous pleasure; I received a letter from Boch yesterday (his sister is one of the Belgian Vingtistes), who writes that he’s settled in the Borinage to paint miners and coal-mines there.10 He’ll return, though, to what he has in mind in the south — to vary his impressions, and in that case will certainly come to Arles.
I find my artistic ideas extremely commonplace in comparison with yours.
I always have an animal’s coarse appetites. I forget everything for the external beauty of things, which I’m unable to render because I make it ugly in my painting, and coarse, whereas nature seems perfect to me.
Now, however, the energy of my bony carcass is such that it goes straight to the target; from that comes a perhaps sometimes original sincerity in what I make, if, that is, the subject lends itself to my rough and unskilful execution.
I believe that if from now on you began to think of yourself as the head of this studio, which we’ll attempt to make a refuge for several people, little by little, bit by bit, as our unremitting work provides us with the means to bring the thing to completion — I believe that then you’ll feel relatively consoled for your present misfortunes of penury and illness, considering that we’re probably giving our lives for a generation of painters that will survive for many years to come.
These parts of the world have already seen both the cult of Venus11 —essentially artistic in Greece — and the poets and artists of the Renaissance.12 Where these things have been able to flower, Impressionism can do so too.
About the room where you’ll stay, I’ve made a decoration especially for it, the garden of a poet (in the croquis Bernard has there’s a first idea for it, later simplified).13 The unremarkable public garden contains plants and bushes that make one dream of landscapes in which one may readily picture to oneself Botticelli, Giotto, Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio. In the decoration I’ve tried to tease out the essence of what constitutes the changeless character of the region.14
And I’d have wished to paint this garden in such a way that one would think both of the old poet of this place (or rather, of Avignon), Petrarch, and of its new poet — Paul Gauguin.
However clumsy this effort, you’ll still see, perhaps, that while preparing your studio I’ve thought of you with very deep feeling.
Let’s be of good heart for the success of our enterprise, and may you continue to feel very much at home here.
Because I’m so strongly inclined to believe that all this will last for a long time.
Good handshake, and believe me
Only I’m afraid that you’ll find Brittany more beautiful — even though you may well see nothing more beautiful than things out of Daumier, figures here are often pure Daumier. Now, as for you, it won’t take you long to discover, under all the modernity, the ancient world and the Renaissance, which is sleeping. Now, as far as they’re concerned, you’re at liberty to reawaken them.
Bernard tells me that he, Moret, Laval and someone else would do an exchange with me.15 I am really, in principle, a great supporter of the system of exchanges among artists, since I see that it occupied a considerable place in the life of the Japanese painters.16 So one of these days I’ll send you such studies as I have to spare, in the dry state, and you’ll have first choice.
But I won’t exchange a single one with you if on your part it would mean costing you something as significant as your portrait, which would be too beautiful. For sure, I wouldn’t dare, because my brother will gladly buy it from you against a whole month’s allowance.