Monday, April 5, 2010

letters from vincent XIV

auvers-sur-oise/july 1890
to brother theo and johanna

I should like him to have a soul less unquiet than mine, which is foundering . . .


They are vast fields of wheat under troubled skies, and I did not need to go out of my way to express sadness and extreme loneliness.


to his mother and wilhelmina

I myself am quite absorbed in the immense plain with wheatfields against the hills, boundless as a sea, delicate yellow, delicate soft green, the delicate violet of a dug-up and weeded piece of soil, chequered at regular intervals with the green of flowering potato plants, everything under a sky of delicate blue, white, pink, violet tones.
I am in a mood of almost too much calmness, in the mood to paint this . . .


to brother theo

Daubigny's garden, foreground of grass in green and pink, To the left a green and lilac bush and the stem of a plant with whitish leaves. In the middle a border of roses, to the right a wicket, a wall, and above the wall a hazel tree with violet foliage. Then a lilac hedge, a row of rounded yellow lime trees, the house itself in the background, pink, with a roof of bluish tiles. A bench and three chairs, a figure in black with a yellow hat and in the foreground a black cat. Sky pale green.

letters from vincent XIII

st remy/june-july 1889
to brother theo
Only work absorbs me so much that I think I shall always remain absent-minded abd awkward in shifting for myself . . . 


The cypresses are always occupying my thoughts, I should like to make something of them like the canvasses of the sunflowers, because it astonishes me that they have not yet been done as I see them.
It is as beautiful of line and proportion as an Egyptian obelisk.
And the green has a quality of such distinction.
It is a splash of black in a sunny landscape, but it is one of the most interesting black notes, and the most difficult to hit off exactly that I can imagine . . . .

During the attacks I feel a coward before the pain and suffering-- more of a coward than I ought to be, and it is perhaps this very moral cowardice which, whereas I had no desire to get better before, makes me eat like two now, work hard, limit my relations with the other patients for fear of a relapse-- altogether I am now trying to recover like a man who meant to commit suicide and, finding the water too cold, tries to regain the bank.


october 1889

It is really my opinion more and more, as I said to Isaacson, if you work diligently from nature without saying to yourself beforehand-- 'I want to do this or that', if you work as if you were making a pair of shoes, without artistic preoccupations, you will not always do well, but the days you least expect it, you find a subject which holds its own with the work of those who have gone before. You learn to know a country which is basically quite different from what it appears at first sight.


to joseph and mme ginoux

I assure you that last year I almost hated the idea of regaining my health-- of only feeling somewhat better for a shorter or longer time-- always living in fear of relapses-- I almost hated the idea, I tell you-- so little did I feel inclined to begin again. Often I said to myself that I preferred that there be nothing further, that this be the end. Ah, well-- it would seem that we are not the masters of this--of our existence-- it would seem that what matters is that one should learn to want to go on living, even when suffering, Oh, I feel so cowardly in this respect; even when my health has returned, I am still afraid.

letters from vincent XII

arles/april 1889
to paul signac

When I think of the obsequial pomp of the reception and the lamentable congratulations on the on the part of the two families (still in a state of civilization), not to mention the fortuitous appearancesin those chemist's jars where the antediluvian civil and religious magistrates are kept-- goodness gracious-- musn't one pity the poor wretch who is obliged, after having provided himself with the necessary documents, to repair to a locality, where, with a ferocity unequalled by the cruelest cannibals, he is married alive at a slow fire of receptions and the aforesaid funereal pomp . . . .
But at times it is not easy to take up living again, for there remain inner seizures of despair of a pretty large calibre.
My God, those anxieties-- who can live in the modern world without catching his share of them? The best consolation, if not the best remedy, is to be found in deep friendships, even though they have the disadvantage of anchoring us more firmly to life than would seem desirable in the days of our great sufferings . . . .


I have been 'in a hole' all my life, and my mental condition is not only vague now, but has always been so, not that whatever is done for me, I cannot think things out so as to balance my life. Where I have to follow, as here in the hospital, I feel at peace . . . .


I throw myself fully into my work again, very good, but I shall always be cracked.

letters from vincent XI

to brother theo

Painting ought to be done at the public expense, instead of the artists being overburdened with it.
But there, we had better hold our tongues, because no one is forcing us to work, fate having ordained that indifference to painting be widespread and by way of being eternal.


In my picture of the the 'Night Cafe' I have tried to express the idea that the cafe' is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime. So I have tried to express, as it were, the powers of darkness in a low public house, by soft Louis XV green and malachite, contrasting with yellow-green and harsh blue-greens, and all this in an atmosphere like a devil's furnace, of pale sulphur . . . .
If he saw my picture, he would say that it was delirium tremens in full swing . . . .


I wrote to you already, early this morning, then I went away to go on with a picture of a garden in the sunshine. Then I brought it back and went out again with a blank canvas, and that also is finished. And now I want to write you again,
Because I have never had such a chance, nature here being so extraordinarily beautiful. Everywhere and all over the vault og heaven is a marvellous blue, and the sun sheds a radiance of pale sulphur, and it is soft and lovely as the combination of heavenly blues and yellows in a Van der Meer (Vermeer) of Delft. I cannot paint as beautifully as that, but it absorbs me so much that I let myself go, never thinking of a single rule.


I always think that poetry is more terrible than painting, though painting is a dirtier and much more worrying job. And then the painter never says anything, he holds his tongue, and I like that too.


arles/january 1889

It has been a magnificent day with no wind, and I have such a longing to work that I am astonished, as I did not expect it anymore.


I thought that there had been nothing wrong with me, but afterward I felt that I had been ill. Well, well, there are moments when I am twisted by enthusiasm or madness or prophecy, like a Greek oracle on the tripod . . .


Instead of eating enough and at regular times I kept myself going on coffee and alcohol. I admit all that, but all the same it is true that to attain the high yellow note that I attained last summer, I really had to be pretty well keyed up.


These last three months do seem strange to me. Sometimes moods of indescribable mental anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and the fatality of circumstances seem to be torn apart for an instant.

letters from vincent X

arles/april-may 1888
to brother theo

In the fullness of artistic life there is, and remains, and will always come back at times, that homesick longing for the truly ideal life that can never come true.
And sometimes you lack all desire to throw yourself heart and soul into art, and to get well for that. You know you are a cab horse and that it's the same old cab you'll be hitched up to again: that you'd rather live in a meadow with the sun, a river and other horses for company, likewise free . . . .
And perhaps, to get to the bottom of it, the disease of the heart is caused by this: it would not surprise me. One does not rebel against things, nor is one resigned to them; one's ill because of them, and one does not get better, and it's hard to be precise about the cure . . . .
We do not feel we are dying, but we do feel the truth that we are of small account, and that we are paying a hard price to be a link in a chain of artists, in health, in youth, in liberty, none of which we enjoy, any more than the cab horse which hauls a coachful of people out to enjoy the spring . . .



One night I went for a walk my the sea along the empty shore. It was not gay, but neither was it sad-- it was-- beautiful. The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a blue deeper than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way. In the blue depth the stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant, more sparklingly gemlike than at home-- even in Paris: opals you might call them, emeralds, lapis lazuli, rubies, sapphires. The sea was very deep ultramarine-- the shore a sort of violet and faint russet as I saw it, and on the dunes (they are about seventeen feet high) some bushes Prussian blue . . . .


to sister wilhelmina

I am always very dusty, always more bristlingly loaded, like a porcupine, with sticks, painter's easel, canvases and further merchandise . . . .
I live in a little yellow house with a green door and green blinds, whitewashed inside-- on the white walls very brightly coloured Japanese prints, red tiles on the floor-- the house in full sunlight-- and over it an intensely blue sky, and-- the shadows in the middle of the day much shorter than in our country. Well-- can you understand that one may be able to paint something like this with only a few strokes of the brush? . . . .


to brother theo

So now when anyone says that such and such is done too quickly, you can reply that they have looked at it too quickly . . . .

letters from vincent IX

antwerp/february 1886
to brother theo

Then I left the house, from which may be inferred as a matter of course that they got what they wanted; for the rest, I think of them extremely, extremely little, and I do not desire them to think of me, as far as that goes . . .


One feels instinctively that an enormous number of things are changing and that everything will change.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

letters from vincent VIII

nuenen/september 1884
to brother theo

I tell you, if one wants to be active, one must not be afraid of failures, one must not be afraid of making some mistakes. Many people think that they will become good by doing no harm; that's a lie, and you yourself used to call it a lie.
It leads to stagnation, to mediocrity.
Just dash something down when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face with a certain imbecility.
You do not know how paralysing that staring of a blank canvas is; it says to the painter, You can't do anything. The canvas stares at you like an idiot, and it hypnotizes some painters, so that they themselves become idiots. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the really passionate painter who is daring-- and who has once and for all broken that spell of 'you cannot' . . . .

january 1885

And I am also looking for blue all the time. Here the peasants' figures are as a rule blue. That blue in the ripe corn or against the withered leaves of a birch hedge-- so that the faded shades of darker and lighter blue are emphasized and made to speak by contrast with the golden tones of reddish-brown-- is very beautiful and has struck me here from the very first. The people here instinctively wear the most beautiful blue that I have ever seen.
It is a coarse linen which they weave themselves, warp black, woof blue, the result of which is a black and blue striped pattern. When this fades and becomes somewhat discoloured by wind and weather, it is an infinitely quiet, delicate tone that particularly brings out the flesh colour.
Well, blue enough to react to all the colours in which hidden orage elements are to be found and discoloured enough not to jar . . .

letters from vincent VII

drenthe/september 1883
to brother theo

As I feel the need to speak out frankly, I cannot hide from you that I am overcome by a great feeling of anxiety, depression, a 'je ne sais quoi' of discouragement and despair more than
I can tell. And if I cannot find comfort it will be too overwhelming.
I take it so much to heart that I do not get on better with people in general; it worries me a great deal, because so much of my success in carrying out my work depends on it . . . . through one single glass pane the light falls on an empty colour box, on a bundle of worn-out brushes, it is so curiously melancholy that fortunately it also has a comical aspect . . . .


With all one's energy one cannot do anything, and thinks oneself crazy, or Heaven knows what.

letters from vincent VI

the hague/august 1883
to brother theo

It may be feverishness, or nerves, or something else, I don't know, but I don't feel well. Perhaps I am thinking more than is necessary . . . . I have an uneasy feeling I can't shake off, though I have tried to overcome it.


For I do not know how long I shall be able to hold out. Things are getting too much for me. I feel my strength failing. I tell you plainly that under such circumstances, I am afraid I shall never hold out.


The world concerns me only insofar as I feel a certain indebtedness and duty toward it because I have walked this earth for thirty years . . . .

letters from vincent V

the hague/july 1882
to brother theo

Do not imagine that I think myself perfect or that I think that many people's taking me for a disagreeable character is no fault of mine. I am often terribly melancholy, irritable, hungering and thirsting, as it were, for sympathy; and when I do not get it, I try to act indifferently, speak sharply, and often even pour oil on the fire. I do not like to be in company, and often find it difficult to mingle with people, to speak with them. But do you know what the cause is-- if not of all, of a great deal of this? Simply nervousness; I am terribly sensitive, physically as well as morally . . . But you, or anyone who will take the trouble to think it over, will not condemn me, I hope, because of it, not find me unbearable. I try to fight it off, but that does not change my temperament; and even though this may be my bad side, confound it, I have a good side too, and can't they credit me with that also?


It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is a calm pure harmony and music inside me.


Last Saturday night I attacked a thing I had been dreaming of for along time. It is a view of the flat green meadows, with haycocks. It is crossed by a cinder path running along a ditch. And on the horizon in the middle of the picture the sun is setting, fiery red.I cannot possibly draw the effect in such a hurry, but this is the composition.
But it was surely a question of colour and tone, the variety of the sky's colour scheme-- first a violet haze, with the red sun half covered by a dark purple cloud which had a brilliant fine red border; near the sun reflections of vermilion, but above it a streak of yellow, turning into green and then into blue, the so-called cerulean blue; and then here and there violet and grey clouds, catching reflections from the sun.
The ground was a kind of carpetlike texture of green, grey and brown, but variegated and full of vibration-- in this colourful soil the water in the ditch sparkles.
Then I have painted a huge mass of dune ground-- thickly painted and sticky.


I know for sure that I have an instinct for colour, and that it will come to me more and more, that painting is in the very marrow of my bones.


I feel such a creative power in myself that I know for sure that the time will arrive when, so to speak, I shall regularly make something good every day.
But very rarely a day passes that I do not make something, though it is not yet the real thing I want to make . . .



This is something unbearable for many a painter, or at least almost unbearable. One wants to be an honest man, one is that, one works as hard as a slave, but still one cannot make both ends meet; one must give up the work, there is no chance of carrying it out without spending more on it than one can get back, one gets a feeling of guilt, of shortcoming, of not keeping one's promises, one is not honest, which one would be if the work were paid for at its natural, reasonable price. One is afraid of making friends, one is afraid of moving; like one of the old lepers, one would like to call from afar to the people: Don't come too near me, for intercourse with me brings you sorrow and loss. With all that huge burden of care on one's heart one must set to work with a calm everyday face . . . .


But one feels so miserable at such a time; I have a large pile of studies, but they don't interest me then, and I find them all bad . . . .


The crayon has a real gypsy soul.

letters from vincent IV

brussels/april 1881
to brother theo

Though I feel my weakness and my painful dependence in many things, I have recovered my mental balance, and day by day my energy increases.


Wait, perhaps some day you will see that I too am an artist.

letters from vincent III

the boringae/ october 1879
to brother theo

Sometimes in winter the cold is so biting that one says, It is too cold; what do I care if summer will follow, the evil far surpasses the good. But with or without our permission, an end to the bitter frost comes at last, and on a certain morning the wind has turned and we have a thaw.


Well, what shall I say? Do our inner thoughts ever show outwardly? there may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passersby see only a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney, and go along there merry way.


But I should be very glad if it were possible for you to see me as something more than an idle man of the worst type.

letters from vincent II

amsterdam/august 1877
to brother theo

A phrase in your letter struck me: 'I wish I were far away from everything; I am the cause of all, and bring only sorrow to everybody; I alone have brought all this misery on myself and others.' These words struck me because that same feeling, exactly the same, neither more nor less, is also on my conscience . . . .


There are moments when the common everyday things make an extraordinary impression and have a deep significance and a different aspect


I want to ask you one thing: couldn't you arrange it so that we could be together, quiet and undisturbed, for at least one whole day?

letters from vincent I

london/march 1875
to brother theo

Father wrote to me once, 'Do not forget the story of Icarus, who wanted to fly to the sun, and having arrived at a certain height, lost his wings and dropped into the sea.' You will often fel that neither you nor I are what we hope to become someday, that we are still far beneath Father and other people, and are wanting in stability, simplicity and sincerity. One cannot become simple and true in one day. But let us persevere . . . .

worth a look-- African Beaded Art