Letter 18, page 2

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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: 

be sure to tell your father that with a little more money you would make much better paintings.

The idea of making a kind of freemasonry of painters does not please me hugely; I deeply despise rules, institutions, etc. In short, I'm looking for something other than dogmas, which, very far from settling things, only cause endless disputes.

It's a sign of decadence. Now, as a union of painters exists so far only in the form of a vague but very broad sketch, then let's calmly allow what must happen to happen.

It will be better if it crystallizes naturally; the more one talks about it, the less it comes about. If you wish to support it, you have only to continue with Gauguin and me. It's in progress, let's not talk any more; if it must come it will come about without big negotiations but through calm and well-thought-out actions.

As regards the exchanges, it's precisely because I have often had occasion to hear mention in your letters of Laval, Moret and the other young man, that I have a great desire to get to know them. But—I don't have five dry studies—will have to add at least two slightly more serious attempts at paintings, a portrait of myself and a landscape angry with a nasty mistral.

Then I would have a study of a little garden of multicolored flowers.

A study of gray and dusty thistles,

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.