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898 To Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Auvers-sur-Oise, on or about Thursday, 10 July 1890.

No. 898 (Brieven 1990 903, Complete Letters 649)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger
Date: Auvers-sur-Oise, on or about Thursday, 10 July 1890

Source status
Original manuscript

Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b697 V/1962

Van Gogh looks back on his visit to Paris on Sunday, 6 July (see letter 897). Since then he has painted three large canvases (l. 36). Knowing that in Auvers he achieved the high level of production of around one canvas a day, we have dated the present letter to about Thursday, 10 July 1888. See also Hulsker 1998, p. 49.

The earlier version of this letter, RM24, was never sent.

Ongoing topic
Theo considers leaving the firm of Boussod, Valadon & Cie (894)

original text
Chers frère & soeur,
la lettre de Jo a été pour moi réellement comme un évangile, une délivrance d’angoisse que m’avaient causée les heures un peu difficiles & laborieuses pour nous tous que j’ai partagées avec vous.–1 C’est pas peu de chôse lorsque tous ensemble nous sentons le pain quotidien en danger, pas peu de chôse lorsque pour d’autres causes que celle là aussi nous sentons notre existence fragile.2
Revenu ici3 je me suis senti moi aussi encore bien attristé et avais continué à sentir peser sur moi aussi l’orage qui vous menace. Qu’y faire – voyez vous je cherche d’habitude à être de bonne humeur assez mais ma vie à moi aussi est attaquée à la racine même, mon pas aussi est chancelant. J’ai craint – pas tout à fait – mais un peu pourtant – que je vous étais redoutable étant à votre charge – mais la lettre de Jo me prouve clairement que  1v:2 vous sentez bien que pour ma part je suis en travail et peine comme vous.
Là – revenu ici je me suis remis au travail – le pinceau pourtant me tombant presque des mains et – sachant bien ce que je voulais j’ai encore depuis peint trois grandes toiles. Ce sont d’immenses étendues de blés sous des ciels troublés et je ne me suis pas gêné pour chercher à exprimer de la tristesse, de la solitude extrême.4 Vous verrez cela j’espère sous peu – car j’espère vous les apporter à Paris le plus tôt possible puisque je croirais presque que ces toiles vous diront ce que je ne sais dire en paroles, ce que je vois de sain et de fortifiant dans la campagne.
Maintenant la troisieme toile est le jardin de  1v:3 Daubigny, tableau que je méditais depuis que je suis ici.–5
J’espère de tout mon coeur que le voyage projeté puisse vous procurer un peu de distraction.6
Souvent je pense au petit, je crois que certes c’est mieux d’élever des enfants que de donner toute sa force nerveuse à faire des tableaux mais que voulez vous, je suis moi maintenant, au moins me sens, trop vieux pour revenir sur des pas ou pour avoir envie d’autre chôse. Cette envie m’a passée quoique la douleur morale m’en reste.
Je regrette beaucoup de ne pas avoir revu Guillaumin mais cela me fait plaisir qu’il aie vu mes toiles.
Si je l’avais attendu j’aurais probablement resté à causer  1r:4 avec lui de façon à perdre mon train.
Vous soushaitant de la chance et bon courage et prosperité relative, je vous prie de dire une fois à la mère et à la soeur que je pense à elles bien souvent, d’ailleurs j’ai ce matin une lettre d’elles et répondrai sous peu.
Poignées de main en pensée.

t. à v.

mon argent ne me durera pas bien longtemps cette fois ci, ayant à mon retour eu à payer les frais de bagages d’Arles.7 Je garde de ce voyage à Paris de bien bons souvenirs. il y a quelques mois j’osais peu esperer revoir encore les amis. j’ai trouvé bien du talent à cette dame hollandaise.8
Le tableau de Lautrec, portrait de musicienne, est bien etonnant, je l’ai vu avec émotion.9

Dear brother and sister,
Jo’s letter was really like a gospel for me, a deliverance from anguish which I was caused by the rather difficult and laborious hours for us all that I shared with you.1 It’s no small thing when all together we feel the daily bread in danger, no small thing when for other causes than that we also feel our existence to be fragile.2
Once back here3 I too still felt very saddened, and had continued to feel the storm that threatens you also weighing upon me. What can be done – you see I usually try to be quite good-humoured, but my life, too, is attacked at the very root, my step also is faltering. I feared – not completely – but a little nonetheless – that I was a danger to you, living at your expense – but Jo’s letter clearly proves to me that  1v:2 you really feel that for my part I am working and suffering like you.
There – once back here I set to work again – the brush however almost falling from my hands and – knowing clearly what I wanted I’ve painted another three large canvases since then. They’re immense stretches of wheatfields under turbulent skies, and I made a point of trying to express sadness, extreme loneliness.4 You’ll see this soon, I hope – for I hope to bring them to you in Paris as soon as possible, since I’d almost believe that these canvases will tell you what I can’t say in words, what I consider healthy and fortifying about the countryside.
Now the third canvas is Daubigny’s garden,  1v:3 a painting I’d been thinking about ever since I’ve been here.5
I hope with all my heart that the planned journey may provide you with a little distraction.6
I often think of the little one, I believe that certainly it’s better to bring up children than to expend all one’s nervous energy in making paintings, but what can you do, I myself am now, at least I feel I am, too old to retrace my steps or to desire something else. This desire has left me, although the moral pain of it remains.
I very much regret not having seen Guillaumin again, but it pleases me that he’s seen my canvases.
If I’d waited for him I would probably have stayed to talk  1r:4 with him in such a way as to miss my train.
Wishing you luck and good heart and relative prosperity, please tell Mother and Sister sometime that I think of them very often, besides this morning I have a letter from them and will reply shortly.
Handshakes in thought.

Ever yours,

My money won’t last me very long this time, as on my return I had to pay the baggage costs from Arles.7 I retain very good memories of this trip to Paris. A few months ago I little dared hope to see our friends again. I thought that Dutch lady had a great deal of talent.8
Lautrec’s painting, portrait of a female musician, is quite astonishing, it moved me when I saw it.9
1. This letter from Jo van Gogh-Bonger is not known.
2. Vincent is referring here to his own fragile health, as well as the health problems of Theo and his family.
3. Vincent had visited Theo and Jo in Paris on Sunday, 6 July (see letter 897). Jo wrote in the introduction to her edition of the letters: ‘In the first days of July, Vincent came again to see us in Paris; we were worn out by the child’s serious indisposition – Theo had again conceived the plan to leave Goupil in order to start a business of his own, Vincent was not satisfied with the room the paintings are stored in, so we talked about moving to a larger apartment, so they were days of worry and tension.
There were also constant visitors for Vincent, including Aurier, who had written his famous article about Vincent shortly before this, and now looked at all the work again with the painter himself, and Toulouse-Lautrec, who stayed to have lunch with us and had the biggest laugh with Vincent about an undertaker’s assistant, whom they met on the stairs. Guillaumin would also have come, but it was too much for Vincent, he didn’t wait for his visit, and went back to Auvers in great haste; overfatigued and overwrought, as appears from his last letters and from his last paintings, in which one feels imminent disaster, coming closer like the black birds that race across the field in the storm’ (Brieven 1914, pp. lxii-lxiii).
Vincent’s visit did not go smoothly. On 31 July 1890, Jo wrote to Theo: ‘If only I’d been a bit kinder to him when he was with us!’ and on 1 August: ‘How sorry I was for being impatient with him the last time’ (FR b4245 and b2060; Brief happiness 1999, pp. 276-277).
4. Van Gogh later added ‘de la solitude extrême’ (extreme loneliness). Judging by the description, the most likely possibilities are Wheatfield under troubled skies (F 778 / JH 2097 ) and Wheatfield with crows (F 779 / JH 2117 ); they are, moreover, the same format as the third canvas (see n. 5). Cf. also exhib. cat. New York 1986, pp. 275-276.
5. Van Gogh painted two large canvases of Daubigny’s garden: Daubigny’s garden (F 776 / JH 2104 ) and Daubigny’s garden (F 777 / JH 2105 ). The one referred to here is the first version, F 777 / JH 2105 . See exhib. cat. New York, pp. 284-285.
6. Theo, Jo and little Vincent left on 15 July for Leiden. Jo then travelled on to Amsterdam to stay with her family while she and the baby regained their strength. Theo was most likely in The Hague on 16 July. He then travelled via Antwerp to Brussels, returning to Paris on Friday evening, 18 July. He was planning to go again to the Netherlands and spend his holidays there with his family (see Brief happiness 1999, pp. 245-248, and letter 901).
7. Van Gogh’s furniture from Arles had been sent by the Ginouxs to Auvers (see letter 882).
8. The sculptor Elisabeth Sara Clasina de Swart (see Brieven 1914, vol. 3, p. 461). Vincent had met her on Sunday, 6 July.
9. For Toulouse-Lautrec’s Mademoiselle Dihau at the piano , about which Theo had written earlier, see letter 858, n. 8. Van Gogh must have seen it during his visit to Paris. His surprised reaction can perhaps be explained by the fact that he had painted the same subject a short while before in Marguerite Gachet at the piano (F 772 / JH 2048 ).