My dear Theo,
It’s been a week since I committed
myself. I feel quite at home and with
no regrets that I did so. This is not
to say, of course, that given my state
of mind I will not swing to a more
extreme opinion. For the present,
all is more than I could have imagined
I am not alone here, other men suffer
as I do. A few are quite beyond
reach, while others are holding on
with courage. By observing these madmen
and lunatics, little by little I am
beginning to see that madness is
a disease like any other, except
for the cries and howls, especially
at night, then the place resembles
a managerie of strange animals.
As for my health, it is good, considering
my last attack. But, please, do not concern
yourself about my health. I assure you
I can manage. Besides, I know I will
be happy here than if I were elsewhere.
By staying here, perhaps for a few weeks
or even months, a routine of daily habits
should, in the long run, bring more order
to my life and lessen my anxieties.
As proof of my new optimism, I have
already completed two paintings – “Blue Irises”
and “Lilacs.” A room has even been
set aside as a studio for me. It does
me so much good, Theo, and drives
away dark thoughts that disturb me when
I least expect them and frighten me
like a child.
I noticed the irises in the little
garden the first day I arrived and put
them to oil and canvas the very next day.
You will marvel at how fresh and vibrant
they are when you see the canvases.
What caught my eye more forcefully is
the deep violet-blue – like those of Chartres.
I hope you will find a buyer for it.
Then I would not be so dependent on
your generosity, especially now that your
wife is expecting – congratulations,
my dear brother! If a boy, what name
do you plan to give him, or is it too
early to ask? Write and tell me.
What matters now is that I keep working,
for despite my setbacks I am more than
ever convinced I can make something
of myself, my art, my life. I burn for
some modest recognition, some
honest and official praise. It would give
my spirit such a boost. And, if I may
indulge my vanity a little, the day
may not be far in the future when I
can reap a measure of success to off-set
my miserable life to date.
If only what afflicts me, this malady,
would leave me long enough to achieve
my dreams. But if not, I won’t be bitter;
for even if my work goes unrecognized
in my lifetime, can I not hope that
future generations will not ignore it,
understand what I was trying to do?
Theo, my dear brother, I am persuaded
that it will be so. Was not the Nazarene
denied his due and honor by his own?
Doctor Peyron has given me permission
to work outside in the small flower
garden nearby and to scout the landscape
that surrounds the asylum. And what
magnificant landscape it is! To paint
nature here you must walk amidst its
beauties. To that end, I take long walks
to discover its many features, starting
early in the morning and returning
late in the evening. There is so much
to see that lifts my dampened spirits:
Waving yellow fields of wheat clear to
the distant hills, row after row of olive
trees, brilliant flowers everywhere, open
skies with massive slow-moving, swirling
clouds, and tall cypresses that rise and twist
into the sky like cathedral spires.
I already know how I will portray them
on my canvases.
But nothing, I tell you, my dear brother,
nothing compares to the the night skies here
at St. Rémy – these starry nights, so vast,
so visionary! Already I foresee
several paintings of these starry skies,
like the one I did on the Rhône in Arles
last September. But these of Saint-Rémy
will demand my very best. How they
fire me to paint and charge my brushes!
In truth, dear brother, it is as close
to God as I have ever come. Everywhere
I turn, it’s an ecstasy of color, a banquet
for the senses! I am glutted by a flood
of sensations that leave me staggering
under the pouring heat of the Midi sun.
If only you could visit me, even if just
for a day, to see it all, to walk together
as we did along the Rijswijk road where
we stopped to drink milk near the mill
after the rain – do you remember, Theo?
I will always cherish those memories.
There is so much here, so much that awaits
my brushes and canvases. And I am
so eager to begin. When I return
after a long day in the field, I am
too exhausted to paint, too overwhelmed
by all the work I foresee, my nerves
too taut. And then I am always filled
with remorse when I think of my work,
that it is so little in harmony with
the way I envision it in my head.
But I can’t stop; I must paint. And yet
I hardly know where to begin. My hand,
head and heart shake with delight and despair.
I want the world to see Saint-Rémy on
my canvases. I want everyone to know
and acknowledge that I, Vincent, the mad
Dutchman, was here, painted here!
My dearest brother, how glorious is life!
Copyright © Maurice Rigoler | Year Posted 2018