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from issue no. 03 - 2005

Letters to Theo on goodness and on suffering

Van Gogh, 1889

Then, well you know, I love Arles so much, as much as Gauguin considers it the filthiest city in the whole south. I have found here so much friendship among the neighbors, among the people of the hospital, that indeed I would rather be sick here always than forget the goodness of these people, notwithstanding the prejudices they may have about painting and painters
February 1889

In these days, removing my furniture, packing the canvases I shall send, I was sad. But it seemed sad above all that this had been given to me by your brotherly friendship and that all these years only thanks to your friendship I have been able to support myself: it’s difficult for me to express to you what I felt. The goodness you have had for me is not lost, because you have had it, it remains, even if the materials results be null, it remains even for better reason...
All your goodnesses toward me today I found them greater than ever. I can’t tell you how I feel them, but I assure you that this goodness has spread a good aura and if you don’t see the results, my dear brother, don’t be sorry, your goodness will remain in me.
1 April 1889

I wrote again the other day to our sister that all my life, or at least almost, I have sought something quite different from a martyr career, for which I don’t have the size.
3 May 1889

I am “seized by the ill” in life; my mental state is and has been much too “abstract”, so that whatever they do for me I can’t restore balance to my life. I feel calm where I can follow a rule, like here in the hospital.
30 April 1889

I am not an admirer of Gauguin’s Christ in the garden of olives, of which he has sent me a sketch. That of Bernard’s I don’t know, but he has promised me a photograph, nevertheless I fear that these biblical compositions will make me want other things. In these days I have seen women picking the olives: no possibility of having them as models, I haven’t done anything with it. But I’ve been wondering whether Gauguin’s composition is any good; as for friend Bernard, he probably has never seen an olive tree. He refrains from getting the least idea of the reality of the things, and that is not the way to achieve a synthesis. No, I shan’t ever get involved with their biblical compositions.
November 1889

Bernard has sent me the photos of his canvases: what they have is that they are sorts of dreams and nightmares.
undated (1889)

I’m battling with a painting begun days before my relapse, a reaper, the study is yellow, terribly chunky, but the idea was beautiful and simple. And I then saw in this mower – a vague figure fighting under the sun with the devil to get his work done - I saw the image of death, in the sense that humanity would be the corn that is reaped. And so – if you like – the antithesis of that sower I painted. But in this death nothing is sad, everything happens in the full light with a sun that bathes everything in a light of fine gold.

September 1889

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