The Quarrel in Arles

ACT I, Scene 1

(The play opens with the light coming up on Johanna Bonger who plays softly several bars from Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" (Piano Sonata No. 14.) Then the light dims on her and comes up on Vincent Van Gogh down stage right standing at an easel, and surrounded by rolled up canvases and art materials in a disorderly arrangement.)

VINCENT V G (Reading aloud)

May 1, 1888

My dear Theo

Thank you very much for your letter and the 50-franc note it contained. It's not in black that I see the future, but I see it bristling with many difficulties, and at times I wonder if these won't be stronger than I am...

Ah, well - today I rented the right-hand annex of this building, which contains 4 rooms, or more precisely a front room with a galley behind it, and two small bedrooms upstairs.

Its painted yellow outside, whitewashed inside - it is situated in the full sunshine. I've rented it for 15 francs a month.

What I'd like to do would be to furnish the galley on the first floor, to be able to sleep there, since I usually eat meals in the cafe. The larger one, the studio and store, will remain here for the whole of the campaign in the south, and that way I have my independence from petty squabbles with guest-houses, which are ruinous and depress me...And at this point I dare tell you that I intend to invite Bernard, and other people, to send me canvasses to show them here, if the opportunity arises, and it will certainly arise in Marseille.

I hope I've been lucky this time - you understand, yellow outside, white inside, right out in the sun, at last I'll see my canvasses in a really bright interior. The floor is made of red bricks. And outside, a public garden...

If necessary, I could live at the new house with someone else, and I'd very much like to. Perhaps Gauguin will come to the south.

Ever yours,

(Nods approvingly and turns to the audience)

I am Vincent... the Dutch painter. I started down the path of art working for my Uncle, an art dealer, and then I left to make my own art. My younger brother, Theo, now works for that company, he is Paris based. It's called Goupil. I have told him he ought to become an artist also.

(The light dims on Vincent and comes up on Theo downstage left. He is seated at a French Empire table, rises to sit on the edge of the table.)


I am Theo Van Gogh, Vincent's younger brother. I am 31, my brother is 35. My brother and I are very close. We shared the same bedroom, even the same bed in the attic, when we were growing up. That is, until my parents sent Vincent to Boarding School, at age 11. They said he would not listen to them. We played together all the time as children, explored the woods, played "jump the ditch". He taught me to shoot marbles and build sandcastles. In the winter we skated and sledded together and played indoor games by the fire. He told me stories and read books to me. I missed him.

We did not live together again until Paris. Two years ago Vincent decided to move to Paris, where I have been working, to paint and try to sell his paintings. We shared an apartment together. At first it was a disaster. As an art dealer I spend time with customers and entertain them. They even, sometimes, stay with me when they come to Paris. But Vincent abandoned his paints and brushes everywhere, until the apartment looked like a paintshop. He even wiped his brushes off on my socks. A guest once stepped into a pot of paint on the floor. My cook and housekeeper left after a month. I could not bring visitors home because Vincent would get into long, heated, arguments with them. When he saw that it made me ill, he became more moderate at home. Later, when the firm appointed me to lead an initiative at Goupil to find new art, and new artists (because they could see there were profits to be made) I asked Vincent to help me find these artists. And he did. He introduced me to Lautrec, Gauguin, Pissarro, Seurat, Bernard, Signac and others. We spent much time together then. But, suddenly, one day in February 1888, he decided to leave. We had become very attached to each other again when he stayed with me, did everything together, and now I am without him in the apartment, and it feels very empty. He meant so much to me. He went to Arles, wrote these lines:

(Theo pulls a letter out of a sheaf of letters)

"February 25, ...At times it seems to me that my blood is more or less ready to start circulating again, which wasn't the case lately in Paris, I really couldn't stand it any more.

I have to buy my colors and canvasses from either a grocer or a bookseller, who don't have everything one might wish for. I'll definitely have to go to Marseille to see what the state of these things is like there. I had hoped to find some beautiful blues, etc. ...we'll see.

Don't worry, and give the pals a handshake for me.

Yours truly

My brother encouraged me to find an artist with whom to share the apartment. I did, but it's not the same.

(The light dims on Theo V G and comes up on Gauguin who is standing upstage left, beside an easel, reading a letter he has written.)