My dear Theo,
What you say about two new friends1 certainly does give me great pleasure.
But all the same it astonishes me that you tell me about them and their frame (costing, if I remember rightly, 2,000 francs), but that you don’t say a single word about what there was in that frame, nor a single word about what they’ve done in paintings.
It’s perhaps that you believe that I might have heard of it, but I declare to you that I’m hearing about this business and even about themselves for the first time. So I’m not yet au courant, and would thus like to know: ‘all well and good about the frame, but what was in it, and what are they doing at present?’2
After that I’ll surely be in a better position to give myself an idea of what their conversations with you and Pissarro were like, once I’m au courant with what they themselves are doing.
In any case, it proves one thing: it’s that Dutch artists spoke of you as being the dealer in Impressionist paintings, something we mustn’t lose sight of.  1v:2
And what did they have to say about Dutch art, about Breitner, Rappard, about others, and lastly, what do they say about Tersteeg?
Gauguin writes that he’s already sent his trunk and promises to come around the 20th of this month, in a few days, therefore. Which I’ll be very pleased about, because I dare believe that it will do us both good.
So write me with details of your new friends’ painting soon, and if they’re really painters who are trying to make more progress in something that’s completely new, boldly recommend the south to them. I believe that a new colourist school will take root in the south, seeing increasingly that those from the north rely more on skill with the brush and the so-called picturesque effect than on the desire to express something through colour itself.  1v:3
It gave me great pleasure to have your news, but it astonishes me so much not to know what there was in that frame.
Here, under the stronger sun, I have found what Pissarro said to be true, and moreover what Gauguin wrote me, the same thing. The simplicity, the bleaching-out, the solemnity of great effects of sunlight.3
In the north one will never suspect what it’s like. And if these artists of the monstrous frame seriously wish to see something new, let them go to Bing and then to the south.
As for me, I already get palpitations over ordering my deal frames at 5 francs. It’s like what I said to Russell about his house,4 that the one here would cost several times less in hundred-franc notes than his would in thousands, and that nevertheless we were working for Gauguin even without R.
Have they seen any Seurats, these gentlemen with the frame? I think I’d prefer Seurat’s frame5 to theirs, for inventiveness.  1r:4
Yes, speaking of Seurat — have you seen him again yet?
As far as selling goes, of course I think you’re right not to look for it deliberately, of course I myself would prefer never to sell if the thing could be done.
But if we were nevertheless forced to it, after what has happened we no longer have an alternative, of course, if it should indeed become necessary one day, we could do no better than not be hasty.
I shake your hand firmly, and I hope you’ll tell me what there actually was in the frame. And to our new friends, warm regards and good luck, which I wish them.
If they want to see something new, certainly, let them go to the south or Africa or to Sicily if it’s winter. But it’s only — if they have originality — the real south that will show them something different from Holland. I hope you’ll write to me again before long. Good handshake

Ever yours,

I’m adding another line to tell you that this afternoon I finished the canvas of the bedroom.6
In any case it gives me great pleasure that you’ve met these Dutchmen. It could just be the case that in fact I’d heard of this large painting after all, but not of the frame. Rappard once told me a story (praising the painting and the painter), and I’ll easily see if it was the same painting that was involved when you’ve told me about what they’re doing.
In any event, my dear brother, look, if you complain of having nothing in your noddle as far as of being able to produce good things goes, just look, so much the more must I myself also feel the same melancholy. I could do nothing whatsoever without you, and there you are, let’s not get worked up over what the two of us produce together this way, but on the contrary, let’s smoke our pipes in peace without tormenting ourselves too much to the point of melancholy for not producing separately and with less pain.  2v:6
Certainly, from time to time I’d like to be able to do a little business for a change, and by doing so earn some money on my own account.
But since we can change nothing about it for the moment, let’s accept this inevitable fact, that you’ll always be condemned to trade, without rest or variation, and I that mine is also without rest, constant work that’s really tiring and absorbing for the mind.
I hope that in a year you’ll feel that the two of us have created an artistic thing.
This bedroom is something like that still life of French novels with yellow, pink, green covers,7 you’ll recall. But I believe that the execution is simpler and more virile.
No stippling, no hatching, nothing; the tints flat, but in harmony. I don’t know what I’ll undertake afterwards, because my sight’s still tired.  2v:7
And at those moments, just after hard work, and the harder it is, I feel my noddle empty too, you know. And if I wanted to let myself give in to that, nothing would be easier for me than to hate what I’ve just done and kick it, like père Cézanne.8 But after all, why kick it — let’s leave the studies alone, and only if we see nothing in them, fine, if we see in them what people call good, well then, so much the better.
Anyway, let’s not think too deeply about good and bad, that always being very relative.
It’s precisely a failing of the Dutch to call one thing absolutely good and another absolutely bad, when it’s nowhere near as inflexible as that.  2r:8
You know, I’ve read Richepin’s Césarine too; there are good things in it — the march of the soldiers in flight, how you feel their weariness — let’s not march in life without also being soldiers sometimes.
The quarrel of the son and the father is really heartbreaking,9 but it’s like the same Richepin’s ‘La glu’,10 I find that it leaves no hope, while Guy de Maupassant, who has written things that are certainly just as sad, makes things turn out more humanely in the end. Look at Monsieur Parent,11 look at Pierre et Jean,12 they don’t end in happiness but anyway, the people are resigned and go on all the same. It doesn’t end in so much blood and gore, does it now? I much prefer Guy de Maupassant to Richepin, for being more consoling. At present I’ve just read Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet. The story of a miserly peasant.13 More soon, I hope.

Ever yours,

True, if we’re not producing framed paintings like these Dutchmen, you and I, all the same we’re making paintings like Japanese prints, and let’s keep it to that, no more.

(Have you read Madame Chrysanthème yet?)14


Br. 1990: 712 | CL: 555
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Wednesday, 17 October 1888

1. The two new friends are the Dutch artist Meijer Isaac de Haan and his apprentice Joseph Jacob Isaäcson, who had been in Paris since 1 August 1888.
2. Theo responded to Vincent’s request with a description of the painting by De Haan in question, Uriel Acosta (see letter 708, n. 2). Evidently the frames they used were really out of the ordinary: the art critic J.A. Alberdingk Thijm described the ‘heavy frame’ in which De Haan’s painting was mounted (‘a Corinthian cornice, supported by flanking columns’) and reported that works by Isaäcson at the same exhibition in the Panorama Building in Amsterdam were also in ‘heavy, expensive frames’. See Weekblad De Amsterdammer, 15 July 1888, p. 3.
3. Gauguin may have written this in the (now lost) letter that Van Gogh had just received, but Van Gogh could also be referring to letter 688, in which Gauguin had described the colouration and the ‘great rustic simplicity’ of The vision after the sermon [118].
5. Van Gogh is referring to the innovations Seurat introduced in his frames from the start of 1888. He exhibited Models [2234], which Van Gogh probably saw in his studio (see letter 589, n. 19), at the Indépendants in March of that year in an austere white frame with an inner frame painted in colours that contrasted with the painting. Soon after this he started to paint borders on his canvases, replacing the inner frame. See exhib. cat. Paris 1991, pp. 376-377, and exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1995-2, pp. 149-162.
6. The bedroom (F 482 / JH 1608 [2735]). Van Gogh had already written about the painting in letter 705.
7. Piles of French novels and roses in a glass (‘Romans parisiens’) (F 359 / JH 1332 [2556]).
8. Cézanne went through productive periods interspersed with bouts of severe depression, when he had serious doubts about his talent as an artist. On occasion he even destroyed his own work. See Rewald 1986-2, pp. 33, 62, 67, 117, 188.
9. See letter 683, n. 35, for Richepin, Césarine. The novel opens with the description of a retreat by exhausted soldiers (see 4th ed. Paris 1888, pp. 3, 55). By the ‘quarrel of the son and the father’ Van Gogh is referring to the bad relations between Mr de Roncieux and his son Paul. When he discovers that Paul is not actually his son, he kills the boy’s mother.
10. Richepin’s La glu (1881) is a melodramatic novel about the suicide of a prostitute. There is also a stage adaptation of it (1883).
11. In Maupassant’s novella Monsieur Parent (1885), Henri Parent, a forty-year-old man of independent means, leads a miserable existence thanks to the whims and moods of his younger wife Henriëtte; his only comfort is their small son Georges. When he confronts her with her adultery with a friend of the family, Henriëtte walks out on him, taking the boy with her – he, it turns out, is really the lover’s son. From then on Henri leads an unstable and lonely existence and spends most of his time in cafés.
13. Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet (1834) is about the miser Félix Grandet, who is consumed by a desire for power and rules his wife and his only daughter Eugénie with a rod of iron. Eugénie inherits Félix’s fortune on his death, and this makes her a very eligible catch. Eugénie, though, waits for the man she loves, her cousin Charles, who has gone to the East Indies. When Charles comes back seven years later and tells Eugénie that he is going to marry someone else, she is disillusioned, enters into a marriage of convenience and seeks solace in charitable works.
14. See letter 628, n. 20, for Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème. Van Gogh wrote this sentence in brackets at the top of the first page of the second sheet p. [2r:5].