My dear Theo,
Thanks very much for your letter. How happy I am for Gauguin; I won’t search for expressions to tell you so — let’s be of bold good heart!1
Now I’ve just received Gauguin’s portrait done by himself and Bernard’s portrait by Bernard, with B.’s portrait on the wall in the background of G.’s portrait, and vice versa.2
The Gauguin is immediately remarkable, but I myself like Bernard’s very much, it’s nothing but an idea of a painter, some cursory tones, some blackish lines, but it’s as stylish as real, real Manet. The Gauguin is more studied, taken further.
That’s what he says in his letter,3 and for me it certainly has above all the effect of representing a prisoner. Not a hint of cheerfulness. It’s not flesh in the very least, but we can boldly put that down to his intention to make something melancholy; the flesh in the shadows is lugubriously tinged with blue. And now at last I have a chance to compare my painting with that of the pals.
My portrait that I’m sending to Gauguin in exchange stands up beside it, I’m sure.4 I wrote to Gauguin in reply to his letter that if I too was allowed to enhance my personality in a portrait, trying to show in my portrait not only myself but an Impressionist in general, I had conceived this portrait as being that of a bonze, a simple worshipper of the eternal Buddha.5  1v:2
And when I put Gauguin’s conception and mine side by side, my portrait is equally serious but less desperate. What Gauguin’s portrait says to me, first and foremost, is that he mustn’t go on that way, he must console himself, he must become the richer Gauguin of the negresses again.6
I’m very pleased to have these two portraits, which faithfully depict for us the pals at this time — they won’t stay like that, they’ll return to the more serene life. And I have the clear sense that the duty has been imposed on me of doing all I can to reduce our poverty.
That counts for nothing in the profession of painting. I feel that he’s more Millet than I am, but I’m more Diaz than he is, and like Diaz, I’ll try to please the public so that some sous may come into the community.7 I’ve spent more than them; seeing their painting, that makes absolutely no odds to me, they’ve worked in too much poverty to make it catch on.  1v:3
Because wait — I have better things than what I’ve sent you, and more saleable, and I feel that I can continue to make more. I have confidence in that, at last. I know that it’ll do certain people good to find poetic subjects — the starry skyThe vine-branchesthe furrowsthe poet’s garden.8
Well then, I believe your duty as well as mine is to wish for comparative wealth, precisely because we’ll have some very great artists to feed. But at present you’re as happy, or at least happy in the same way as Sensier, if you have Gauguin,9 and I sincerely hope that he’ll go for it. It’s not urgent, but in any case I believe that he’ll like the house as his studio well enough to agree to be its head. Let’s wait half a year and see what comes of it.
Bernard has sent me another collection of ten or so drawings, with a gallant piece of verse — the whole thing’s entitled ‘at the brothel’.10
You’ll see these things soon, but I’ll send you the portraits after looking at them for some time.  1r:4
I hope you’ll send me your letter soon; I’m very hard up because of the stretching frames and frames that I’ve ordered.11
What you say about Fréret pleases me. But I dare believe that I’ll do things that will please him more, and you, too.12
Yesterday I painted a sunset.13
Gauguin looks ill and tormented in his portrait!! Look, that won’t last, and it will be very curious to compare this portrait to the one of himself that he’ll do in half a year.
One day you’ll also see the portrait of me that I’m sending to Gauguin, because he’ll keep it, I hope.
It’s all ashy against pale Veronese (no yellow). The clothing is that brown jacket trimmed with blue, but in which I’ve exaggerated the brown into purple, and the width of the blue trim.
The head is modelled in light-coloured thick impasto against a light-coloured background with almost no shadows. But I’ve slightly slanted the eyes in the Japanese manner. Write to me soon, and the best of luck. How happy old Gauguin will be!
Good handshake, and thank Fréret for coming, which pleased me greatly. More soon.

Ever yours,

As for what Gauguin says about ‘Persian’,14 it’s true, I don’t believe it would be shocking, placed in the Dieulafoy Museum; it could be placed there with no problem.15
But but but... I belong neither to high society nor even to society..... and — I prefer both the Greeks and the Japanese to the Persians and Egyptians. For all that, I’m not saying that Gauguin’s wrong to work in the Persian style.
But I’ll have to get used to it.


Br. 1990: 701 | CL: 545
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Thursday, 4 or Friday, 5 October 1888

1. Theo had sent Gauguin 300 francs as the proceeds of the sale of several ceramic pieces, as we learn from letters from Gauguin to Theo and to Schuffenecker. See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, pp. 247-249. This money enabled Gauguin to settle his debts in Pont-Aven so he could go to Arles.
[2262] [2261]
3. Van Gogh had sent letter 692 from Gauguin to Theo for him to read; see letter 694.
4. Self-portrait (F 476 / JH 1581 [2715]), with the (partly erased) dedication ‘A mon ami Paul Gauguin’.
5. See letter 695, n. 9, for this expression.
6. Van Gogh means paintings of negresses that Gauguin did during his stay on Martinique between May and October 1887. Theo and Vincent had two of these works in their collection: On the shore of the lake, Martinique [100] and Among the mangoes [107]. See letter 576, n. 2 and letter 612, n. 1.
[100] [107]
7. Van Gogh must be referring to the fact that Diaz’s paintings, unlike those of Rousseau and Millet, were always accepted at the Salon. Diaz painted fast and sold well, which put him in a position to give his friends financial help. Sensier relates how Diaz, who was a great admirer of Millet, came to his friend’s aid: ‘Diaz was waiting to see if some Castilian would appear with a gold ingot, and, in the meantime, he struggled with his public sales at the auctioneers’ to which he sent his paintings each year. The wait was long and hard. In the end, Diaz arrives one memorable day like the victorious El Cid. He has found six hundred francs and lends them to Millet.’ (Diaz cherchait si quelque Castillan n’apparaîtrait pas avec un lingot d’or, et, en attendant, il se débattait avec ses ventes publiques aux commissaires-priseurs, où chaque année il envoyait ses tableaux. L’attente fut longue et cruelle. Enfin, un jour mémorable, Diaz arrive comme le Cid victorieux. Il a trouvé six cents francs et les prête à Millet.) See Sensier 1881, p. 204.
8. Starry night over the Rhône (F 474 / JH 1592 [2723]), The green vineyard (F 475 / JH 1595 [2726]) and Ploughed fields (‘The furrows’) (F 574 / JH 1586 [2719]). By ‘the poet’s garden’ Van Gogh means the companion pieces The public garden (‘The poet’s garden’) (F 468 / JH 1578 [2713]) and a now lost painting of the park (cf. the drawing The public garden (‘The poet’s garden’) (F 1465 / JH 1583) and the letter sketch in letter 693 for the composition).
[2723] [2726] [2719] [2713]
9. An allusion to the good relationship Sensier had with Millet (cf. letter 210, n. 2).
10. Bernard sent an album (eleven loose sheets in a binder), titled Au bordel (At the brothel) on the front, with the dedication ‘a l’ami Vincent / ces croquis stupides’ (to my friend Vincent / these stupid croquis), and signature ‘EBernard / 1888’. The album measures 40.5 x 26 cm and contains eleven coloured sketches of brothel scenes (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 2220-2232 [2220] [2222] [2223] [2224] [2225] [2226] [2227] [2228] [2229] [2230] [2231] [2232] . Written on most of them is something said by a prostitute, or a title. Bernard wrote the following poem on the inside back cover of the album (we have restored any missing accents):

Disgust is the healthiest, and to the red ray of dusk
I prefer a gas-lamp in a sordid bar,
With girls on green couches, bare-breasted,
Kissing stupid strangers’ lips.
Ugliness is the infernal thing that can stir the soul,
And we have truly ceased loving women
With a languid gaze, like a nude by Fragonard.
–. Let us prefer flaunted flesh to great art
(Which, as we know, consists of great machines
In which queens, virgins, murderesses move,
Joan of Arc or Catherine de’ Medici,)
I don’t dispute their indefinable charms,
That’s everyone’s right –. But the more we plunge into the chasm,
The more the concept pervades our brain;
For beneath the oceans’ eternal depths,
In the blackest, bitterest of abysses,
The pearl sleeps among the monsters and the weeds;
The violet, beneath the rotted heap of bouquets,
Exudes a sweet scent that intoxicates intensely.–
It’s the hideous, then, that’s the sole element –
The crucible from which a world of an abyss escapes
Whose form is ugliness, whose essence the Sublime.
– . –
That is why I like recreating myself in ghastliness,
And when my weary mind refuses to create,
I go to those forbidden haunts where drunkenness is flaunted
To find for my brain the divine caress
Given to our gaping heart by the misunderstood
–. Bleak, vast revelation of Nothingness.

(L’horreur c’est le plus sain, et je préfère au rouge
Rayon d’un crépuscule un bec de gaz de bouge
Avec, sur des bancs verts des filles les seins nus
Baisant les lèvres de stupides inconnus.
Le laid c’est l’infernal qui sait remuer l’âme,
Et nous avons vraiment fini d’aimer la femme
A l’oeil languide ainsi qu’un nu de Fragonard.
–. Qu’on préfère la chair à l’étal, au grand art
(Qui consiste l’on sait en de grandes machines
Où se meuvent des reines, vierges, assasines
Jeanne Darc ou Cathérine de Medicis,)
Je n’en discute pas les charmes indécis,
C’est le droit de chacun –. Mais plus au gouffre on plonge
Plus dans notre cerveau le conceps s’allonge;
Car sous les profondeurs eternelles des mers
Dans les abîmes les plus noirs, les plus amers,
La perle dort parmi les monstres et les herbes;
La violette sous le tas pourri des gerbes
Répand un doux parfum qui grise fortement.–
Donc c’est que le hideux c’est l’unique élément –
Le creuset d’où s’échappe un monde d’un abîme
Dont la forme est le laid et le fond le Sublime.
– . –
C’est pourquoi dans l’affreux j’aime a me recréer
Et quand mon esprit las se refuse a créer
Je vais aux lieux bannis où s’étale l’ivresse
Pour mon cerveau chercher la divine caresse
Que donne l’incompris à notre coeur béant
–. Révélation morne et grande du Néant.)

Emile Bernard published the poem, with some changes, in Le voyage de l’être. Poèmes d’évolution, under de title ‘A Vincent van Gohg’ [sic] with above it the note ‘On sending him croquis’ (En lui envoyant des croquis). See Bernard 1898, pp. 76-77. Cf. exhib. cat. New Brunswick 1988, p. 24.
11. See letters 683 and 687 for this order for frames and stretching frames.
12. The painter Armand Auguste Fréret was an acquaintance of Theo’s; his name is in Theo’s address book. See exhib. cat. Paris 1988, p. 356. Theo must have said in his letter that Fréret had been to see him and liked Van Gogh’s work.
13. Van Gogh may be referring here to Sand barges (F 437 / JH 1570 [2708]) and/or Sand barges (F 438 / JH 1571 [2709]). Cf. letter 652, n. 13. It was previously identified as Pollard willows with setting sun (F 572 / JH 1597 [2727]), but that work is now dated to March 1888. See cat. Otterlo 2003, pp. 202-205.
[2708] [2709] [2727]
14. In letter 692, which Van Gogh enclosed with the present letter, Gauguin compared his self-portrait with the style of Persian carpets.
15. From 1884 to 1886 the French archaeologist Auguste Marcel Dieulafoy and his wife Jeanne undertook archaeological studies in Susa, some 300 km to the west of Isfahan, in the palaces of Darius i the Great and Artaxerxes ii. Fragments from their excavations were taken to Paris, where the Dieulafoy Gallery opened on the first floor of the Louvre on 6 June 1888. Van Gogh must have read the article ‘Au Louvre: La salle Dieulafoy’ about the collection in L’Intransigeant of 8 June 1888, p. 2. See exhib. cat. Chicago 2001, p. 383 (n. 258).