Letter 17, page 2

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Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 1 October 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.


nature you have to see in order to develop your talent as a painter and colorist to its full extent. But that can be done only to the detriment of your poor carcass, if your father does not make it possible for you to avoid becoming anemic or to catch debilitating dysentery through lack of strengthening food before this African ordeal.

It's scarcely possible to make yourself strong over there, and if you go to a hot climate, I'm far from saying you have to fatten yourself up beforehand, but I do say you have to pay attention to your food for some time in advance. And I'm sticking to that, having found myself doing well here on that regime, and the heat of Africa is something different again from that of Arles.

You'll emerge from this ordeal of your service much stronger, and strong enough for a whole career as an artist or—broken.


© 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.