My dear old Bernard.
The consignment Gauguin and you sent arrived at almost the same time as my studies went off.1 I was delighted, it really warmed my heart to see the two faces again. As for your portrait — you know — I like it very much — actually I like everything that you do, as you know — and perhaps nobody before me has liked what you do as much as I do.
I really urge you to study the portrait; make as many as possible and don’t give up – later we’ll have to attract the public through portraits — in my view that’s where the future lies. But let’s not get sidetracked into hypotheses now. Because it’s up to us next to thank you for the collection of rough sketches entitled At the brothel.2
Bravo! The woman washing herself and the one who says ‘I’m second to none when it comes to taking it out of a man’3 are the best, it seems to me. The others are grimacing too much — and most of all, are too vague, too little flesh and bone properly built up.
It doesn’t matter; it’s already something altogether new and interesting, and the rest, too – at the brothel — yes, that’s what needs to be done, and I assure you that I for one almost envy you this bloody good opportunity you have to go in there in uniform. Which those good little women adore. The poem at the end is really beautiful; stands up better than some of the figures.4 What you want, and what you say you believe, you say well and resonantly.
Write to me when you’re going to be in Paris — the thing is that I’ve already written you a thousand times that my night café isn’t a brothel, it’s a café where night prowlers cease to be night prowlers, since, slumped over tables, they spend the whole night there without prowling at all.5 Occasionally a whore brings her fellow there. But arriving there one night I came across a little group
1v:2 of a pimp and a whore who were making up after a quarrel. The woman was pretending to be indifferent and haughty, the man was tender. I started to paint it for you from memory — on a little no. 4 or no. 66 canvas — now if you’re leaving soon — I’ll send it to you in Paris; if you’re staying longer, say so, I’ll send it to you in Pont-Aven. I couldn’t add it to the consignment, it was nowhere near dry enough.
But I don’t want to sign this study, because I never work from memory — there will be colour in it, which will suit you, but to repeat, here I’m doing a study for you that I would prefer not to do. I mercilessly destroyed an important canvas — a Christ with the angel in Gethsemane — as well as another one depicting the poet with a starry sky — because the form hadn’t been studied from the model beforehand, necessary in such cases7 — despite the fact that the colour was right.
If the study I’m sending you in exchange doesn’t suit you, just look at it a little longer.
I had the devil’s own job to do it with an irritating mistral8 (like the study in red and green, as well).9 Well, despite the fact that it wasn’t painted as fluently as the old mill10 — it’s more delicate and more intimate. You see that all of this is perhaps not at all — Impressionist – well, too bad, I can’t do anything about it — but I do what I do with an abandonment to reality, without thinking about this or that. Goes without saying that if you preferred another study from the batch to the Men unloading sand, you could take it and remove my dedication11 if someone else wants it. But I believe that that one will suit you once you’ve looked at it a little longer.
If Laval, Moret and the other one12 agree to make exchanges with me, perfect, but on my side I’d be especially satisfied if they wanted to do their portraits for me.
You know, Bernard, it always seems to me that if I want to do studies of brothels I’d need more money than I have; I’m not young or womanizer enough13 for them to pose for me for free. And I can’t work without a model. I’m not saying that I don’t flatly turn my back on reality to turn a study into a painting — by arranging the colour, by enlarging, by simplifying — but I have such a fear of separating myself from what’s possible and what’s right as far as form is concerned.
Later, after another ten years of studies, all right, but in very truth I have so much curiosity for what’s possible and what really exists that I have so little desire or courage to search for the ideal, in so far as it could result from my abstract studies.
Others may have more clarity of mind than I for abstract studies — and you might certainly be among them, as well as Gauguin and perhaps myself when I’m old.
But in the meantime I’m still living off the real world. I exaggerate, I sometimes make changes to the subject, but still I don’t invent the whole of the painting; on the contrary, I find it ready-made — but to be untangled — in the real world.
But you’ll probably find these studies ugly, I don’t know. In any case, neither you nor anyone else should do an exchange grudgingly.
My brother writes that Anquetin’s back in Paris;14 I’m curious to know what he’s made. When you see him you’ll give him my warm regards.
The house will seem more lived-in now that I’ll see the portraits in it.
How happy I would be to see you there yourself this winter; it’s true that the trip costs rather a lot. Nevertheless, may one not risk those expenses by taking one’s revenge by working? Work’s so difficult in the north in winter. Here too, perhaps; I’ve hardly had the experience yet and it remains to be seen.
But it’s damned useful to see the south, where life is lived more in the open air, in order to understand the Japanese better.
And that touch of the haughty and the noble that certain places have down here will suit your book very well. In the Red sunset, the Sun should be imagined higher, outside the painting, let’s say just at the level of the frame.15 Because it so happens that an hour, an hour and a half before it sets, the things on the earth still keep their colours like that. Later the blue and the violet colour them darker, as soon as the sun sends out rays that are more horizontal. Thanks once again for what you sent me, it really warmed my heart.
And a good handshake in thought, and write to me the day of your departure so that I know when you’ll be in Paris; address in Paris still avenue de Beaulieu 5, isn’t it?16