Letter 12, page 1

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Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 29 July 1888

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.


My dear old Bernard,
A thousand thanks for sending your drawings; I very much like the avenue of plane trees beside the sea with two women chatting in the foreground and the promenaders. Also

the woman under the apple tree
the woman with the parasol

then the four drawings of nude women, especially the one washing herself, a gray effect embellished with black, white, yellow, brown. It's charming.

Ah . . . Rembrandt . . . all admiration for Baudelaire aside—I venture to assume, especially on the basis of those verses . . . that he knew more or less nothing about Rembrandt. I have just found and bought here a little etching after Rembrandt, a study of a nude man, realistic and simple; he's standing, leaning against a door or column in a dark interior. A ray of light from above skims his downturned face and the bushy red hair.

You'd think it a Degas for the body, true and felt in its animality.

But see, have you ever looked closely at "The Ox" or the Interior of a Butcher's Shop in the Louvre? You haven't looked closely at them, and Baudelaire infinitely less so.


© 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.