Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 15 July 1888
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.
A microscopic figure of a plowman, a little train passing through the wheat fields; that's the only life there is in it. Listen, I passed—a few days after my arrival—that place with a painter friend.
There's something that would be boring to do, he said. I said nothing myself, but I found that so astonishing that I didn't even have the strength to give that idiot a piece of my mind. I go back there, go back, go back again—well, I've done two drawings of it—of that flat landscape in which there was nothing but . . . the infinite . . . eternity.
Well—while I'm drawing along comes a chap who isn't a painter but a soldier. I say, "Does it astonish you that I find that as beautiful as the sea?" Now he knew the sea—that one. "No—it doesn't astonish me"—he says—"that you find that
© 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.