My dear sister,
Thank you very much for your last letter and the news of Cor. Soon you’ll move house, and this will be the last time I write to you at Breda.
Very soon I’ll send Theo the painted studies I had promised, and he’ll get them to you in Leiden. This is what I have: An olive grove1 – Wheatfield with reaper2 – Wheatfields and cypresses3 – Interior4 – Ploughed fields, morning effect5 – Orchard in blossom6 – and a portrait of me.7 Let’s say that during the course of the next year I send you as many, that would make a little collection with the two that you have,8 and if you had enough room I would urge you to keep them together, since you’ll probably see artists from time to time in Leiden, and other studies would, I dare believe, soon join mine. Don’t feel uncomfortable about hanging them in a corridor, in the kitchen, on the stairs. My painting is made to be seen above all against a simple background. I try to paint in such a way that it looks good in a kitchen, then sometimes I notice that it looks well in a drawing room too, but I never bother myself about that. Here in the south we have bare walls, white or yellow, or decorated with wallpaper with big coloured flowers. So it seems to me that it’s a matter of proceeding by means of oppositions of bright colours.  1v:2 It’s the same with the frames – the frames I use cost me 5 francs at the most, while the less solid gilded frames would cost 30 or more. And if the painting looks good in a simple frame, why put gilding around it?
Listen now – if I willingly commit myself to continuing to send studies to you and Mother, I’d also have a desire that’s almost a need to do a few more in addition for people I think about often. Thus our cousins, the ladies Mauve and Lecomte, if you see them while in Leiden, tell them that if they like my work I would gladly do some for them, very gladly, but above all, too, I would like Margot Begemann to have a painting of mine.9 But getting it to her by way of you is more discreet than sending it to her directly. So you would oblige me by taking steps to see that these three people I’ve just mentioned have something of mine. There’s no hurry, but from time to time I do have the right, yes the right to work for friends who are so far away that I’ll probably not see them again.
The doctor from here has been to Paris and went to see Theo,10 he told him that he does not consider me a lunatic but that the crises I have are of an epileptic nature. So it isn’t alcohol either that was the cause, although of course it doesn’t do one any good. But how difficult it is, how difficult it is to resume one’s ordinary life without being absolutely too demoralized by the certainty of unhappiness. And one clings on to the affections of the past.  1v:3
So as I tell you, for me it’s almost an absolute need to send something of my work to Holland, and if you succeed in getting some accepted it will be my task to be grateful.
You’ll probably find the interior the ugliest, an empty bedroom with a wooden bed and two chairs – and yet I’ve painted it twice on a large scale.11 I wanted to arrive at an effect of simplicity as described in Felix Holt.12 In telling you this you’ll perhaps understand the painting quickly, but it’s likely that it will remain ridiculous for others, not forewarned. To make simplicity with bright colours isn’t easy though, and I find that it can be useful to show that one can be simple with something other than grey, white, black and brown. That is the raison d’être for that study.
You’ll find my wheatfields too yellow, but with me one shouldn’t begin by saying, it’s too yellow, too blue or too green.
You’ll receive these studies in Leiden, I don’t know when. Theo will probably have one framed in Paris, so you can put them in a frame if you wish and then, when the opportunity arises, put them in a crate of paintings for The Hague.
But anyway, everything’s completed as regards my painting, and I assure you that it isn’t the worst I’ve done. I’d also like you to have the red vineyard that Theo has of mine,13 and if ever I come to Paris again I’ll copy it for you.
Yes, I’m coming back one more time to that interior, I’d certainly like other artists to have, like me, the taste, the need for simplicity. In current society, though, an ideal of simplicity makes life more difficult, and he who has it, this ideal – he merely ends up, as in my case, unable to do what he wants.  1r:4 But anyway, that however is what society should give an artist, it seems to me, whereas nowadays one is obliged to live in the cafés or low inns. The Japanese have lived in very simple interiors,14 and what great artists have lived in that country! If a painter is rich in our society, then he lives in a house that resembles a curiosity shop, and that isn’t very artistic either, to my taste. And I myself have suffered greatly from living so much in conditions where order was impossible, that I lost the notion of order and simplicity.
That good fellow Isaäcson wanted to write an article on me in a Dutch newspaper on paintings absolutely like those I’m sending you, but I’d be very sad to read such an article, and I wrote to tell him so. Now I’m working on a hospital ward. In the foreground a big black stove around which a few grey or black shapes of patients, then behind the very long ward, tiled with red with the two rows of white beds, the walls white, but a lilac or green white, and the windows with pink curtains, with green curtains, and in the background two figures of nuns in black and white. The ceiling is violet with large beams.15 I had read an article on Dostoevsky, who had written a book, Souvenirs de la maison des morts,16 and that spurred me on to begin work again on a large study that I’d begun in the fever ward in Arles. But it’s annoying to paint figures without models.
I’ve read another of Carmen Sylva’s ideas, which is very true: when you suffer a lot – you see everybody at a great distance, and as if at the far end of an immense arena – the very voices seem to come from a long way off.17 I’ve experienced this in these crises to such a point that all the people I see then seem to me, even if I recognize them – which isn’t always the case – to come from very far away and to be entirely different from what they are in reality, so much do I then seem to see in them pleasant or unpleasant resemblances to people I’ve known in other times and places.
Au revoir, I wish you every success with your work of moving house, and kiss you in thought.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 814 | CL: W15
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willemien van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, 21 October 1889

1. This study of olive trees is not known; Van Gogh wrote in letter 806 that it was a smaller version of one of his canvases of olive trees.
2. Reaper (F 619 / JH 1792 [2844]).
3. Wheatfield and cypresses (F 743 / JH 1790 [2842]).
4. The bedroom (F 483 / JH 1793 [2845]).
5. Field with a ploughman (F 625 / JH 1768 [2825]).
6. It is not known which painting of a blossoming orchard is referred to here.
7. Self-portrait with clean-shaven face (F 525 / JH 1665 [2769]).
8. One of these works was probably Sprig of almond blossom in a glass with a book (F 393 / JH 1362 [2566]), which Van Gogh said in letter 590 was to be for Willemien. For the other canvases in Willemien’s possession, see letter 678, n. 10.
9. This intention never came to fruition; in any case, nothing is known of works received by Anna and Jet Carbentus. Margot Begemann owned only early paintings by Van Gogh, namely The old church tower at Nuenen with a ploughman (F 34 / JH 459 [2453]) and Cottage (F 92 / JH 810).
[2453] [897]
10. For Dr Peyron’s visit to Theo, see letter 807.
11. The bedroom (F 482 / JH 1608 [2735]) and The bedroom (F 484 / JH 1771 [3007]). They measure 72 x 90 cm and 73.6 x 92.3 cm, respectively.
[2735] [3007]
12. Van Gogh is referring to the sober, simple way of life – idealised by George Eliot – chosen by the resolute protagonist Felix Holt, who lives ‘in the absence of all elegance, luxury, gaiety or romance’ and ‘has chosen his lot. He means always to be a poor man’. Van Gogh’s remark later in the letter, that he had ‘the taste, the need for simplicity’, even though ‘an ideal of simplicity makes life more difficult’, is perfectly in keeping with the life chosen by Holt. See Eliot 1980, pp. 152, 352. Cf. Dorn 1990, pp. 140-141.
13. The red vineyard (F 495 / JH 1626 [2745]) had been at Theo’s since the end of May 1889 (see letter 767).
14. Van Gogh derived his knowledge of the simple interiors of the Japanese from Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème. See letter 639, n. 11.
15. Ward in the hospital (F 646 / JH 1686 [2782]).
16. This was probably the article on Dostoevsky that Vincent had sent to Theo the previous year; see letter 680, n. 5. Dostoevsky’s novel The house of the dead (1864) is based on the time he spent (1850-1854) doing forced labour in a Siberian prison camp, where his health, which was weak to start with (he suffered from epilepsy), seriously deteriorated. The first French translation dates from 1886.
17. Quotation from Carmen Sylva’s Les pensées d’une reine (see Sylva 1888, p. 80, ‘La douleur’). Unlike the quotation appearing in letters 804 and 805, this passage was not quoted by Loti in his article on Carmen Sylva.