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.
The decoration of the house absorbs me terribly. I dare to believe that it would be quite to your liking, although it's very different from what you do, of course. But just as you spoke to me in the past about paintings that would depict, one flowers, the other trees, the other fields.
Well, I have the Poet's Garden (2 canvases); (among the sketches you have the first idea for it, after a smaller painted study that's already at my brother's).
Then The Starry Night, then The Vineyard, then The Furrows, then the view of the house could be called The Street, so unintentionally there's a certain sequence.
Well, I'll be very very curious to see studies of Pont-Aven. But for yourself, give me something fairly worked up. It will work out, anyway, because I like your talent so much that I'd be very pleased to make a small collection of your works, bit by bit.
For a long time I have been touched by the fact that Japanese artists very often made exchanges among themselves. It clearly proves that they liked one another and stuck together, and that there was a certain harmony among them and that they did indeed live in a kind of brotherly life, in a natural way and not in the midst of intrigues. The more we resemble them in that respect, the better it will be for us. It seems also that those Japanese earned very little money and lived like simple laborers. I have the reproduction (Bing publication) of a Japanese drawing: a single blade of grass. What an example of awareness—you'll see it one day. I shake your hand firmly.
© 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.