Vincent van Gogh - The Thresher after Jean-Francois Millet 1889

The Thresher after Jean-Francois Millet 1889
The Thresher after Jean-Francois Millet
Oil on canvas 44.0 x 27.5 cm. Saint-Rémy: September, 1889
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Thresher Jean-Francois Millet
The Thresher
Jean-Francois Millet

Van Gogh made twenty-one paintings in Saint-Rémy that were "translations" of the work of Jean-François Millet. Van Gogh did not intend for his works to be literal copies of the originals. Speaking specifically of the works after Millet, he explained, "it's not copying pure and simple that one would be doing. It is rather translating into another language, the one of colors, the impressions of chiaroscuro and white and black."

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Wednesday, 9 January 1889.
My dear Theo,
Even before receiving (this very moment) your kind letter, I received a letter from your fiancée this morning announcing the engagement. So I’ve already replied to her with my sincere congratulations, as I repeat them here to you.
My fear that my indisposition might prevent your very necessary journey, which I’ve hoped for so much and for so long — now that this fear has disappeared I feel completely normal. This morning I went to the hospital again to have my wound dressed, and walked for an hour and a half with the house physician, and we talked a little about everything, even natural history.
What you tell me about Gauguin gives me enormous pleasure, that’s to say that he hasn’t abandoned his plan to return to the tropics. That’s the right path for him. I think I can see clearly into his plan, and I approve of it with all my heart. Naturally I have regrets about it, but you can understand that provided it goes well for him that’s all I need. If you can do so, talk a little to C.M. about the future of his business and the fact that his son can continue it, provided C.M. himself does his full duty as regards listening to you and putting you and his son together. All the same C.M. must wish that the firm he founded continues — hasn’t he introduced into Holland the very artists who were not with the Goupils, &c. &c.?
Then Tersteeg must admit the Impressionists, or at least believe in E. Delacroix, and then Tersteeg and you joining hands would be a great force that Boussod would have to reckon with. What is the 89 exhibition going to be?
Don’t forget The anatomy lesson for Mr Rey. He had already told me before this morning that he likes painting, although he knows little about it, and that he would like to learn. I told him that he should become an art lover but that he shouldn’t try to do painting himself. This means that perhaps we’ll find 2 doctor friends here, Rey and the Parisian doctor I spoke to you about before.

I told them that Bruyas of Montpellier shares a certain family characteristic with the two of us, and that we’re therefore simply continuing what Monticelli and Bruyas began in the south.
When I came out of the hospital I had quite a few things to pay, and while they aren’t at all urgent for a few days, I’d be pleased if you could send me about fifty francs within the next few days.
The mistake in pal Gauguin’s calculations was, in my opinion, that he’s a little too accustomed to closing his eyes to the inevitable expenses of house rental, charwoman and a whole heap of earthly things of that kind. Now, all these things weigh a little heavily on the shoulders of the two of us. But once we bear them, other artists could lodge with me without having those costs. I’ve just been told that in my absence the owner of my house here apparently made a contract with a fellow who has a tobacco shop, to turn me out and give him, the tobacconist, the house.
That worries me a little, for I’m not much inclined to have myself turned out of this house almost shamefully when it was I who had it repainted inside and out and had gas put in &c., in short who made habitable a house that had been locked up and uninhabited for quite a long time, and which I took on in very poor condition. This is to warn you that perhaps at Easter, for example, if the owner persists, I’ll ask you for advice about it, and that in all of this I consider myself merely an agent, defending the interests of our artist friends.
Besides, it’s more than likely that water will flow under the bridge between now and then. And the main thing is not to worry about it.
Has Bernard returned the Silvestre book to you yet? I’ll need the exact title to get those doctors to read this book.
Physically I am well, the wound is closing very well and the great loss of blood is balancing out, since I’m eating and digesting well. The most fearsome thing is the insomnia, and the doctor didn’t talk to me about it, nor have I spoken to him about it yet. But I’m fighting it myself. I’m fighting this insomnia with a very, very strong dose of camphor in my pillow and my mattress, and I recommend it to you if you ever have trouble sleeping. I was very fearful of sleeping alone in the house, and I felt anxious that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but it went very well and I dare to believe that it won’t recur.
My suffering in that way in the hospital was appalling, and yet in the midst of it all, though I was more than insensible, I can tell you as a curiosity that I kept thinking about Degas.
Gauguin and I had talked about Degas before, and I pointed out to Gauguin that Degas had said this:... ‘I’m saving myself for the Arlésiennes.’
Now, you who know how subtle Degas is, once you’re back in Paris, tell Degas that I admit to you that up until now I’ve been powerless to paint them as other than poisonous, the women of Arles, and that he mustn’t believe Gauguin if Gauguin says good things too soon about my work, which has only been done under the influence of illness.
Now, if I recover I must start again, and I can’t again attain those peaks to which sickness imperfectly led me.
I would very much have liked to give another painting to Rivet precisely because I wholly agree with you that it would be good to put Mr Rey in touch with Rivet.
But you could indeed tell Rivet that it would be good to send Mr Rey back here to the hospital with the doctor’s qualification he’s going to try and get. He’s very, very useful here, and we’ll darned well be in need of doctors again here in Arles in days to come, as long as cholera and the plague &c. continue to menace the area around Marseille. Now Rey was born here and would be worthless in Paris or elsewhere, while once he was armed with the full medical power of Paris, he could perform real miracles here in a time of calamity. Of course we have no right to get involved in the question of medicine, only Rivet himself will perhaps be of the same opinion as regards the feeling that an Arlesian isn’t a Parisian and vice versa.
Did you pass through Breda, I’m naturally inclined to think so. Above all, reassure Mother about me.
Have you seen the portrait of me that Gauguin has, and have you seen the portrait that Gauguin did of himself during those final days?
If you were to compare this portrait which Gauguin did of himself then with the one I still have of him, which he sent to me from Brittany in exchange for mine, you would see that all in all he grew more serene here, personally.
What have De Haan and Isaäcson been doing? I had vaguely hoped to see them here one day had Gauguin himself stayed longer with me, and with a view to that I’d even rented two little rooms which were coming vacant in the house which I currently have the whole of (the rent is 21.50 francs a month). I daren’t press the point any more, seeing as Gauguin has gone, especially when one considers that the journey to the south costs quite a lot. Anyway, give them my kind regards when you see them again.
Roulin sends his warm regards, he was very pleased with what you said about him in your letter today, and besides, he amply deserves it.
Handshake, and naturally you’ll feel how much I wish you good days with your fiancée.
Ever yours,

Warm regards to André Bonger if he’s there too.