My dear friend Koning,
Thank you for sending me New Year’s greetings from the far north of our old native country.1 I received your postcard in the hospital in Arles, where I was quartered at the time because of an attack of brain or some other fever that had already pretty much passed off. And as regards the causes and effects of the illness in question, we’ll do best to leave it to possible discussions by the Dutch catechists as to whether or not I have been or still am — mad, fancy myself mad, or regarded as mad in a flight of fancy consisting only of sculpture.
And if not, whether I already was before that time;2 am or am not at present, or will be hereafter.
Having thus informed you more than enough about my mental and physical state... it will appear less odd to you that I didn’t reply to you sooner.  1v:2 But meanwhile we mustn’t forget to stick to our guns.
And starting from there, I ask you: what are you doing in painting at the moment, and how are you working with colour?
I’ve seen absolutely nothing of your studies sent to Theo (I believe), despite urging you to make an exchange.3 Is this to do with Theo, who possibly had other things on his mind, or with the not inconsiderable distance between us?
Did you know that Theo is engaged and will marry an Amsterdam girl quite soon?
After this question about your work, a few words about mine. At present I have a portrait of a woman on the go, or rather on the easel.4
Which I’ve called ‘la berceuse’, or as we say in Dutch with Van Eeden (you know, who wrote that book I got you to read) — or  1v:3 would simply call in Van Eeden’s Dutch ‘our lullaby’, or the woman by the cradle.5
It’s a woman dressed in green (bust olive green and the skirt pale Veronese green). Her hair is entirely orange and in plaits. The complexion worked up in chrome yellow, with a few broken tones, of course, in order to model. The hands that hold the cradle cord ditto ditto. The background is vermilion at the bottom (simply representing a tiled floor or brick floor). The wall is covered with wallpaper, obviously calculated by me in connection with the rest of the colours. This wallpaper is blue-green with pink dahlias and dotted with orange and with ultramarine. I believe I’ve run fairly parallel to Van Eeden in this, and consequently don’t regard his style of writing as unparallel to my style of painting in the matter of colour.6 Whether I’ve actually sung a lullaby with colour I leave to the critics, particularly to those aforementioned. But we’ve talked enough about this in the past, haven’t we?7 About the eternal question of colour that guides us, in so far as our composure can go.  1r:4
In any event, on leaving the hospital I painted my own doctor’s portrait.8 And haven’t yet altogether lost my equilibrium as a painter.
But obviously I’ve painted a lot more other studies or paintings in all this time. Among other things this summer, two flower-pieces with nothing but Sunflowers in a yellow earthenware pot.9 Painted with the three chrome yellows,10 yellow ochre and Veronese green and nothing else.
For the time being I’m still in Arles and at your disposal for further correspondence by letter or painted study. Theo went to see Breitner recently,11 and said of his work that he thought Breitner the best painter and thinker among you over there.
Regards, my dear friend, with a handshake in thought.

Your friend

Address still
2 Place Lamartine

If you see Breitner, you may let him read this epistle or tell him about it just as I write it, without bringing too much of your own imagination into play.12


Br. 1990: 745 | CL: 571a
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Arnold Koning
Date: Arles, on or about Tuesday, 22 January 1889

1. Koning had sent a postcard from Winschoten on 31 December 1888 (letter 727).
2. In 1880 Mr van Gogh was planning to have his son committed to the Belgian lunatic asylum of Geel. See letter 155, n. 1 and 185, n. 3.
3. For the studies that Koning sent to Theo, see letter 666, n. 9. The proposal to exchange work with Koning came up in letters 600 and 614.
4. Augustine Roulin (‘La berceuse’) (F 508 / JH 1671 [2775]).
5. Van Gogh does not mean that a woman rocking a baby or a lullaby occur in Frederik van Eeden’s De kleine Johannes. This is not the case. He wants to translate the French word ‘berceuse’ into the language of the writer whose book is a point of reference shared by him and Koning: the Dutch of Van Eeden’s De kleine Johannes (on this book, see letter 626, n. 16).
Van Gogh later added in pencil ‘of de wiegster’ (or the woman rocking the baby).
6. Here, too, Van Gogh is not interested in a thematic comparison between his Berceuse and De kleine Johannes; he compares Van Eeden’s ‘style of writing’ with his ‘style of painting’, and is thus referring to a similarity in style and technique. What Van Gogh means is clarified in another passage by his comments on these aspects of La berceuse. In letter 739 he wrote to Gauguin: ‘As an Impressionist arrangement of colours, I have never devised anything better’ (ll. 72-74). The then innovative style of De kleine Johannes does indeed have Impressionistic traits, particularly in the many descriptions of nature, with their countless colour adjectives. Van Gogh’s comparison was actually prompted mainly by his need to win Koning over to his Berceuse, albeit from a distance, by putting the painting on a par with something Koning apparently admired.
7. Regarding Koning’s stay in Paris, see letter 578, n. 8.
8. Félix Rey (F 500 / JH 1659 [2766]).
9. Sunflowers in a vase (F 456 / JH 1561 [2703]) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 454 / JH 1562 [2704]).
[2703] [2704]
10. In letter 595 Van Gogh names the three chrome yellows as orange, yellow and lemon.
11. Theo met Breitner while staying in Amsterdam from 6 to 11 January 1889. Breitner was then working in a studio at Eerste Parkstraat 438. They had already known each other for a long time. See Jessica Voeten, Het Witsenhuis. Amsterdam and Antwerp 2003, p. 29.
12. Van Gogh later pencilled in the sentence ‘als ... brengen’ (If you ... into play’).