Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 3 October 1888
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 lastly a still life of old peasants' shoes. And a small landscape of nothing at all, in which there's nothing but a bit of an expanse. Now, if these studies aren't found pleasing, and if one or other preferred not to take part, all you have to do is keep those that are wanted and return with the exchanges those that aren't wanted. We're in no hurry, and in exchanges it's better on both sides to try to give something good.
If it's dry enough to be rolled up after being exposed to the sun tomorrow, I'll add a landscape of men unloading sand, another project and attempt at a painting, in which there is a more fully developed sense of purpose.
I cannot send a repetition of the night café yet because it hasn't even been started, but I'm very willing to do it for you, but once again, it's better on both sides to try to exchange good things than to do them too hastily.
The artistic gentleman who was in your letter, who resembles me—is that me or somebody else?
He certainly looks like me as far as the face is concerned, but in the first place I'm always smoking a pipe, and then, having vertigo, I have an unspeakable horror of sitting like that on sheer crags beside the sea. So if that's meant to be my portrait, I protest against the above-mentioned improbabilities.
© 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.