Letter 18, page 1

Vincent van Gogh
(1853–1890)

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 3 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.

Translation: 

My dear old Bernard,
This time you deserve bigger compliments for the little sketch of the two Breton women in your letter than for the other six, since the little sketch has a great style. I'm behind myself as far as sketches go, being so totally absorbed these recent superb days with square no. 30 canvases, which wear me out considerably and I intend to use to decorate the house.

You will have received my letter explaining the serious reasons for advising you to try to persuade your father to give you a little more freedom as far as your purse is concerned, should he pay your fare to Arles. I believe that you would repay him through your work. And that way you would stay longer with Gauguin, and leaving to do your service, you would leave for a good artistic campaign. If your father had a son who was a prospector and discoverer of raw gold among the pebbles and on the pavement, your father would certainly not look down on that talent. Now in my opinion, you have absolutely the equivalent of that.

Your father, while he might regret that it wasn't shiny new gold, minted in louis, would set out to make a collection of your finds, and to sell them only for a reasonable price. Let him do the same thing for your paintings and drawings, which are as rare and as valuable on the market as rare stones or rare metal. That's absolutely true—a painting is as difficult to make as a large or small diamond is to find.

Now while everyone acknowledges the value of a gold louis or a real pearl, unfortunately those who set store by paintings and believe in them are few and far between. But they do exist. And in any case, there's nothing better to do than to wait without getting impatient, even if one has to wait for a long time. On your side, think a little about what I'm telling you about the cost of living here, and should you have a strong wish to come to Arles with Gauguin and me,

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.