Letter 1, page 2

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Vincent van Gogh
(1853–1890)

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard,Paris, ca. December 1887

About this exhibition: 

Painted with Words is a compelling look at Vincent van Gogh's correspondence to his young colleague Émile Bernard between 1887 and 1889. Van Gogh's words and sketches reveal his thoughts about art and life and communicate his groundbreaking work in Arles to his fellow painter.

Van Gogh's letters to Bernard reveal the tenor of their relationship. Van Gogh assumed the role of an older, wiser brother, offering praise or criticism of Bernard's paintings, drawings, and poems. At the same time the letters chronicle van Gogh's own struggles, as he reached his artistic maturity in isolation in Arles and St. Rémy. Throughout the letters are no less than twelve sketches by van Gogh meant to provide Bernard with an idea of his work in progress, including studies related to the paintings The Langlois Bridge, Houses at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries, The Sower, and View of Arles at Sunset.

Translation: 

And that one finds oneself obliged to learn to live, as one does to paint, without resorting to the old tricks and trompe l'oeil of schemers.

I don't think your portrait of yourself will be your last, or your best—although all in all it is frightfully you.

Look here—briefly, what I was trying to explain to you the other day comes down to this. In order to avoid generalities, let me take an example from life.

If you've fallen out with a painter, with Signac, for example, and if as a result you say: I'll withdraw my canvases if Signac exhibits where I exhibit—and if you run him down, then it seems to me that you are not behaving as well as you could.

Because it's better to take a long look at it before judging so categorically and to reflect, reflection making us see in ourselves, when there's a falling out, as many faults on our own side as in our adversary, and in him as many justifications as we might

Credits: 

© 2007 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Major support for Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard and its accompanying catalogue was provided by the International Music and Art Foundation. Generous support was also provided by the Robert Lehman Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.