My dear Theo,
Although I have nothing very, very unexpected to tell you I still want to let you know that last Monday I saw our friend Roulin again. There was good reason for it too — the whole of France having shivered.1 Certainly in our own eyes the election and its results and its representatives are only symbols. But one thing that has been proved once again is that worldly ambitions and glories pass — but that up to now the beating of the human heart remains the same and as much in touch with the past of our buried fathers as with the generation to come.
This morning I had a very friendly letter from Gauguin to which I replied without delay. When Roulin came I had just finished the repetition of my sunflowers,2 and I showed him the two examples of the Berceuse between these four bouquets.3
Roulin sends you his warm regards.
On Sunday in Marseille he was present at the crowd’s demonstration when the election result was telegraphed from Paris.  1v:2
Like Paris, Marseille was moved to the very depth of the depths of the souls of the common people, all together and taciturn. Ah well, who will now dare order any cannon, machine gun or Lebel rifle4 to fire when so many hearts have been given in advance to serve as stoppers for the cannons?
All the more so since certainly the victorious politicians of this great day today, Rochefort and Boulanger, are with one common accord more ambitious for the cemetery than for any throne.5
Anyhow, that was our interpretation of the event, not just Roulin’s and mine but that of many others. We were very moved all the same. Roulin told me that he almost wept when he saw that silent Marseille crowd, and that he hadn’t recovered his composure until he turned round and saw some very, very old friends, who hesitated to recognize him, by sheer chance. They then went off to have supper together until late into the night.  1v:3
Although he was very tired he wasn’t able to resist the desire to come to Arles to see his family again and, almost falling over with tiredness and very pale, he came to shake our hands. I could just show him the two examples of the portrait of his wife, which pleased him.
From what people tell me I’m very obviously looking better; on the inside my heart is a little too full of so many diverse emotions and hopes, for it astonishes me that I’m getting better.
Everyone here is good towards me, the neighbours &c., good and attentive as in one’s native country.6
I know already that several people here would ask me for portraits if they dared ask for them. As Roulin, poor poverty-stricken devil and lowly employee as he is, is held in very, very great esteem here, people found out that I had done all his family.7
My dear brother, in times to come we may indeed fall into suffering again, into errors, into misfortune, I don’t deny it.
But we’ll always have worked in this 89 here with the French we love so much, as on their side, too, they make us feel the fatherland.  1r:4 Now we have experienced that, at any rate.
Don’t talk to your fiancée about this matter between us, leave me as I’ve asked you, to work until the last day of March.8 And from now until then I’ll have done a few Impressionist canvases, come on. Today I started work on a third Berceuse.9 I do know that it’s neither drawn nor painted as correctly as a Bouguereau, which I almost regret, as I seriously have the desire to be correct — but although it isn’t therefore fated to be a Cabanel or a Bouguereau, I yet hope that it’s French.
The weather today has been magnificent with no wind, and I wanted so much to work that I’m astonished by it, as I hadn’t expected it any more.
I’ll end this letter like the one to Gauguin by telling you that there are indeed still signs of the previous over-excitement in my words, but that there’s nothing surprising about that, since in this good Tarascon country everyone is a touch cracked.10
Good handshake, to De Haan and Isaäcson as well.

Ever yours,

I’ll expect your letter as early as possible after 1 February.


Br. 1990: 748 | CL: 575
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Wednesday, 30 January 1889

1. On 27 January 1889 the controversial general Georges Boulanger was elected to a Paris seat in the Chamber of Deputies by a large majority. Great numbers of his supporters took to the street, demanding that Boulanger should occupy the Palais de l’Elysée and depose President Carnot. Boulanger refused, however, to stage a coup. Roulin was a Boulangist (cf. letter 667).
2. The repetitions are Sunflowers in a vase (F 455 / JH 1668 [2772]) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 458 / JH 1667 [2771]); the earlier versions are Sunflowers in a vase (F 456 / JH 1561 [2703]) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 454 / JH 1562 [2704]).
[2772] [2771] [2703] [2704]
3. These two versions of Augustine Roulin (‘La berceuse’) are F 508 / JH 1671 [2775] and F 506 / JH 1670 [2774].
[2775] [2774]
4. In 1886 an advanced weapon designed by the Frenchman Nicolas Lebel had been put on the market: a bolt action rifle that became known as a ‘fusil Lebel’.
5. After his third banishment, Henri Rochefort had joined the general’s nationalistic, conservative movement. Van Gogh’s remark that Rochefort and Boulanger would prefer the cemetery to the throne no doubt refers to the fact that Boulanger had expressly said that he did not want to seize upon the revolt as a means of coming to power, but would rather be chosen by the people at regular elections.
6. The Roulins, the Ginouxs of the Café de la Gare and the charwoman, Thérèse Balmoissière, were all supportive of Van Gogh. He was on less good terms with his immediate neighbours, Mr and Mrs Crévoulin, whom he mockingly compares in letter 657 with the Buteaux in Zola’s La terre. A short while later they signed the petition to have Van Gogh committed (see letter 750).
7. For the portraits of the Roulin family, see letter 723, n. 2.
8. Van Gogh here refers to letter 743.
9. The third version of the Berceuse is Augustine Roulin (‘La berceuse’) (F 505 / JH 1669 [2773]). See Hoermann Lister 2001, p. 72.