Letter 17, page 4

Primary tabs

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.


And now you'll perhaps tell me that I'm bloody well getting on your nerves with all that.

That you want to go to the brothel, and that you don't give a damn about all the rest. My word, that depends, but I can't say other than that. Art is long and life is short, and we must wait patiently while trying to sell our skin dearly. Me, I'd really like to be your age and go off with whatever knowledge I had to do my service in Africa. But, for example, I'd surely get myself a better body than the one I have. If Gauguin and I are here, as is probable, together—then here for certain we'll do our level best to spare you expenses. But on his side, your father should certainly do his best too, and have confidence in us that we're not trying to extract money from him pointlessly. But in order to do good work you have to eat well, be well housed, have a screw from time to time, smoke your pipe and drink your coffee in peace. I'm not saying that the rest counts for nothing, and leave everyone free to do as he sees fit, but I do say that this system seems preferable to many others to me. Good handshake.

Ever yours,


© 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.