VINCENT VAN GOGH:
Excerpts from the Letters
To Theo, St. Remy, November 1889
If I continue, I certainly agree with you that it is perhaps better to attack things
with simplicity than to seek after abstractions.
And I am not an admirer of Gauguin's, "Christ in the Garden of Olives"
for example, which he sent me a sketch of And then as for Bernard's picture, he
promises me a photograph of it. I don't know, but I fear that his biblical compositions
will make me want something different. Lately I have seen the women
picking and gathering the olives, but as I had no chance of getting a model, I have
done nothing with it. However, now is not the moment to ask me to admire our
friend Gauguin's composition, and our friend Bernard has probably never seen
an olive tree. Now he is avoiding getting the least idea of the possible, or of the
reality of things, and that is not the way to synthetize - no, I have never taken any
stock in their biblical interpretations.
To Theo, St. Remy, n.d. [ca. November 1889]
The thing is that this month I have been working in the olive groves, because their
Christs in the Garden, with nothing really observed, have gotten on my nerves..
Cf course with me there is no question of doing anything from the Bible--and I
have written to Bernard and Gauguin too that I considered that our duty is thinking,
not dreaming, so that when looking at their work I was astonished at their letting
themselves go like that. For Bernard has sent me photos of his canvases. The
trouble with them is that they are a sort of dream or nightmare-that they are
erudite enough-you can see that it is someone who is gone on the primitives-
but frankly the English Pre-Raphaelites did it much better, and then again Puvis
and Delacroix, much more healthily than the Pre-Raphaelites.
It is not that it leaves me cold, but it gives me a painful feeling of collapse
instead of progress. Well, to shake that oil, morning and evening these bright cold
days, but with a very fine, clear sun, I have been knocking about in the orchards,
and the result is Eve size 30 canvases, which along with the three studies of olives
that you have, at least constitute an attack on the problem. The olive is as variable
as our willow or pollard willow in the North, you know the willows are very
striking, in spite of their seeming monotonous, they are the trees characteristic of
the country. Now the olive and the cypress have exactly the significance here as
the willow has at home. What I have done is a rather hard and coarse reality beside
their abstractions, but it will have a rustic quality, and will smell of the earth.
I should so like to see Gauguin's and Bernard's studies from nature, the latter talks
to me of portraits--which doubtless would please me better.