My dear Theo, it’s been a week since I
committed myself. I feel quite at home here
and have 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 or expected.
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 them daily, little by little,
I see that madness is a disease like
any other, except for the cries and howls,
especially at night, then the asylum becomes
a managerie of strange animals.
My health has improved since my last attack.
So, please, do not worry about my health.
I assure youI will manage, come what may.
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
completed two paintings – “Blue Irises”
and “Lilacs.” A room has even been set
aside as a makeshift studio for me.
It does me so much good, Theo, and it
drives away dark thoughts that disturb me
when I least expect them and frighten me
like a child.
I first noticed the irises in the little
garden the very day I arrived, and put
them to oil and canvas the next day.
You will marvel at how fresh and vibrant
they are when you see it. I think it will
sell, but I will leave that judgment to you.
What caught my eye more forcefully is
the deep violet-blue – like those that stain
the cathedral windows 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. I am
eager to know the name of the newest
van Gogh to enter the world!
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
a much needed boost. And, if I may
indulge my vanity a little, the day
may not be far 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 at least hope
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 near the small flower
garden and to scout the landscape not far
from the asylum. And what magnificant
landscape it is! To paint nature here
you must walk amidst its many beauties.
To that end, I take long walks starting
early in the morning, returning late
in the evening. There is so much to see
that lifts my dampened spirits: Waving
yellow fields of wheat clear to distant hills,
row after row of olive trees, brilliant
flowers everywhere, huge open skies
with massive slow-moving, swirling clouds,
and tall cypresses that rise and twist
into the sky like cathedral spires.
I already see them on my canvases!
But nothing, I tell you, my dear brother,
nothing compares to 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 execution.
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 heat
of the Midi sun. If only you could
visit me, even for just 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 that, my dear 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 as
I painted it, as I saw it. I want the world
to know and acknowledge that I, Vincent,
the mad Dutchman, was here, painted here!
My dearest brother, life is glorious!
Copyright © Maurice Rigoler | Year Posted 2021