Letter 16, page 3

Vincent van Gogh
(1853–1890)

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.

Translation: 

And what if the thing that would tempt you the most—painting in the brothels—which is certainly excellent—could not after all be done here for free? Wait for that until you have your uniform, then; here and elsewhere, soldiers can do a whole lot of things in it for free. I, for example— it's true that I've just done that study of a night café—but that, although it's a house of assignation, and from time to time you see a whore sitting there at a table with her fellow—I myself, I say, I haven't yet been able to do a brothel as such, precisely because it would cost me more money than I'm forced to have, to do it reasonably well and seriously. And that I refrain from beginning it before I feel sufficiently sure, as far as the wallet goes, of being able to complete that painting properly. Now, all right. We'd drink some glasses of beer in there, we'd meet people there; we'd work half from the imagination, half with a model. And if we wanted to, I'm not saying that it might not be possible to do it. But I for one,

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.