Gauguin to Vincent Van Gogh

Paul Gauguin, 1889

My dear Vincent,

I received your letter the other day and I’m pleased to see that you’re recovered (if it’s not forever) at least for a long time: a time during which you’re going to be able to work. No, I wasn’t able to see your latest canvases, having been in Brittany for a long time, but De Haan, the Dutchman who is with me, received a letter from a friend telling him that your new canvases were really something very artistic and more imaginative than the others. I’m pleased that you remember our conversations about drawing, and De Haan, who has listened to me on that score, has made real progress here in this regard. I have little news to give you about our friends, as I myself am a little isolated from everything – Laval is in Paris – Bernard in St-Briac. His father has totally forbidden him to be in Pont-Aven with me. You will doubtless remember the bourgeois letter from the angry fellow.

Bernard writes to me sometimes; he has greatly changed for the better, and as an artist he continues to do curious and beautiful things. It isn’t the same for me. I have an unfortunate nature which is thirsty for new things, and I can’t stop myself carrying out new researches. This year I’ve done work completely different from last year, preparatory work for a thing that I glimpse as important. At your place in Arles I did a painting a little in that direction – The grape harvests (a painting you did the drawing of). A woman seated, vines in a red triangle. Degas doesn’t understand, that man. In this order of abstract ideas I am led to seek synthetic form and colour.

As little craft as possible, and here and there secondary motifs, very lightly executed, to allow the impression of a figure all its power and not to fall into trifles, childishness. In front of me I have several etchings, reproductions of paintings etc. by Rembrandt, and I find a lot of these things in there. In the one you have (the detailed angel’s head and the rest unfinished). In the Tobias, if, however, it is a Tobias, the lion is imposing, powerful, the landscape too, and the whole foreground area unfinished, the fellow too. It seemed to me that it was a standpoint, and I researched the reason why. And there’s no reason why, because I’m not a master, I shouldn’t enter into the order of ideas of a master like that one (with different applications). All this (my dear Vincent) leads to me being shouted at in Paris (and I feel that they’re wrong). This year I’ve made incredible efforts in work and reflection, and still it’s as if I’ve rested. At home I have a thing I haven’t sent and which would suit you, I think.

It’s Christ in the Garden of Olives – blue-green sky, dusk, trees all bent into a purple mass, ground violet and Christ wrapped in a dark ochre garment has vermilion hair. As this canvas isn’t destined to be understood I’m keeping it for a long time. Included is this drawing, which will give you a vague idea of it.

We, De Haan and I, have settled ourselves in for work and calm. Beside the sea I’ve found a large house which is rented out for only 2 months for sea bathing – because of that I got it very cheaply for the winter.

The upper part is an immense terrace, 15 metres by 12 and 5 metres high – glazed on 2 sides. On one side we plunge 1v:3 over an immense sea horizon. The storms are magnificent, and we paint them directly from the studio, right in the midst of the sensation of the terribleness of the waves striking black rocks.

On the other side, red sands, fields, and a few farms surrounded by their trees. Models every day of women, men coming to herd the cows, or gather the seaweed from the sea. You can pose them as you wish for a franc. You can see that there’s everything one needs here to work. Beside us we have a little inn where we eat very well, not expensively. That deals with the material side.

De Haan has completely set himself to work in our direction, and is getting along very well without losing his personality, and I promise you that now he understands Rembrandt better than before, as well as the Dutch masters. With the old masters there’s an intellectual bond that links them all together, and by doing as they do one succeeds in doing something else. There’s a paradox (but I understand myself).

For 2 months I’ve been working on a large sculpture (of painted wood), and I dare believe that it’s the best thing I’ve done up to now as regards power and harmony – but the literary side of it is insane to many. A monster who looks like me is taking the hand of a naked woman – that’s the main subject. Figures (smaller) in the gaps. The top part a town, some sort of Babylon, the bottom the countryside with a few imagined flowers (an old and desolate woman) and a fox, the fateful animal of perversity for the Indians.

It’s difficult to give you the feel of it with a drawing, you have to see the colour of the wood marrying with the background painted green, yellow ochre, and yellow flowers, golden hair, a few 1v:4 greenish figures. For despite the inscription the people look sad, in contradiction to the title. On this waxed wood there are reflections where the light hits the parts in relief, imparting richness.

[sketch A]

I’m going to send it to Paris in a few days. Perhaps it will please people more than my painting. De Haan sends you his kind regards.

Yours cordially, P. Gauguin

P.S. I know that you become tired when you write, so I don’t ask you for a letter (despite all the pleasure I have in reading you).
Bernard’s military service has been put back a year (for health).

[sketch B]

At Le Pouldu near Quimper (Finistère).
More about
Paul Gauguin, The ArtistsPortrait of Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin

In search of a lost paradise

1848 – 1903

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