Letter 16, page 1

Primary tabs

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 25 September 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.
Thanks for your letter, but what surprises me a little is to hear you say, "Oh, no way of doing Gauguin's portrait!" Why no way? That's all rubbish. But I'm not pressing the point, and so we categorically won't mention that exchange any more. So even Gauguin, for his own part, hasn't even thought of doing yours. Here you have portraitists, living for so long side by side and they don't agree on posing for each other and they'll separate without having portrayed each other. Well! I'm not pressing the point. And I repeat, there's no longer a question of an exchange.

So I really hope to do your portrait and Gauguin's myself one day, the first time we get together. Which is bound to happen.


© 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.