VINCENT VAN GOGH:
Excerpts from the Letters
To Theo, Arles,[ca. August, 1888]
What a mistake Parisians make in not having a palate for crude things, for
Monticellis, for common earthenware. But there, one must not lose heart because
Utopia is not coming true. It is only that what I learned in Paris is leaving me, and
I am returning to the ideas I had in the country before I knew the impressionists.
And I should not be surprised if the impressionists soon find fault with my way
of working, for it has been fertilized by Delacroix's ideas rather than by theirs.
Because instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before my eyes, I use
color more arbitrarily, in order to express myself forcibly. Well, let that be, as
far as theory goes, but I'm going to give you an example of what I mean.
I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams
great dreams, who works as the nightingale sings, because it is his nature. He'll be
a blond man. I want to put my appreciation, the love I have for him, into the
picture. So I paint him as he is, as faithfully as I can, to begin with.
But the picture is not yet finished. To finish it I am now going to be the
arbitrary colorist. I exaggerate the fairness of the hair, I even get to orange tones,
chromes and pale citron-yellow.
Behind the head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of the mean room,
I paint infinity, a plain background of the richest, intensest blue that I can contrive,
and by this simple combination of the bright head against the rich blue background,
I get a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of an azure sky.
Again, in the portrait of the peasant I worked this way, but in this case
without wishing to produce the mysterious brightness of a pale star in the infinite.
Instead, I imagine the man I have to paint, terrible in the furnace of the height of
harvest time, as surrounded by the whole Midi. Hence the orange colors Hashing
like lightning, vivid as red-hot iron, and hence the luminous tones of old gold in