Monday, February 15, 2010

A Letter From Vincent

Two Excerpts from a Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, c. 5 April 1889
read the entire letter here 
This first excerpt regards the work that Van Gogh was undertaking while simultaneously dealing with so many other difficulties:  poverty, ill health - both physical and mental, and rejection from an entire village who wanted him to leave. Heartbreaking.

La Crau with Peach Trees in Blossom

 "Just now I have on the easel an orchard of peach trees beside a road with the Alpilles in the background. It seems that there was a fine article in the Figaro on Monet, Roulin had read it and been struck by it, he said. Altogether it is a rather difficult problem to decide whether to take a new flat, and even to find it, especially by the month."

In this second excerpt from the same letter, Van Gogh shares with his brother Theo a little about his friendship with Joseph Roulin, the postmaster:

Postman Joseph Roulin



 Van Gogh actually preferred this later sketch of the original:

"Roulin, though he is not quite old enough to be like a father to me, has all the same a silent gravity and tenderness for me such as an old soldier might have for a young one. All the time - but without a word - a something which seems to say, We do not know what will happen to us tomorrow, but whatever it may be, think of me. And it does one good when it comes from a man who is neither embittered, nor sad, nor perfect, nor happy, nor always irreproachably right. But such a good soul and so wise and so full of feeling and so trustful. I tell you I have no right to complain of anything whatever about Arles, when I think of some things I have seen there which I shall never be able to forget.

NOTE: I visited an exhibition of Van Gogh's portraits at the MFA Boston in the year 2000 or so. Paintings from the MFA's collection were there, as well as all of the Roulin family paintings and several depicting people Van Gogh was able to get to sit for him. The Roulin family paintings were the most memorable and evocative. I moved to tears.  P.S.

"What impassions me most – much, much more than all the rest of my métier – is the portrait, the modern portrait," Vincent wrote to his younger sister in early June 1890, a month before his death. "I should like – you see, I'm far from saying that I can, but I'm going to try anyway – I should like to do portraits which will appear as revelations to people in a hundred years' time."  
~Vincent Van Gogh

1. Mother Roulin and her Baby
2. Armand Roudin
3. Portrait of Madame Roudin


  1. What struck me most forcibly about the whole letter was the amount of space and time given over to worries about his flat, rent, finding a new one, etc... How sad. He (and Theo) struggled most of Vincent's adult life with Vincent's finances. Were his paintings more beautifl because he suffered? Would there have been more of them if he had not? Would I choose suffering, myself, if it made my art significantly better? I don't think so. could I still paint in circumstances like Vincent's? I doubt it. Humbling thoughts.

  2. He certainly was successful in his wish to paint memorable portraits. In fact, he was successful in everything he painted. His life was certainly one of great suffering and through it all he produced one of the most magnificent bodies of artwork ever known. Sometimes I'd like to think there really is a heaven.


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