Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 18 March 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.
I regret that living here isn't as cheap as I'd hoped, and until now I haven't found a way of getting by as easily as one could in Pont-Aven. I started out paying 5 francs and now I'm on 4 francs a day. One would need to know the local patois, and know how to eat bouillabaisse and aioli, then one would surely find an inexpensive family boardinghouse. Then if there were several of us, I'm inclined to believe we would get more favorable terms. Perhaps there would be a real advantage in emigrating to the south for many artists in love with sunshine and color. The Japanese may not be making progress in their country, but there is no doubt that their art is being carried on in France. At the top of this letter I am sending you a little sketch of a study that is preoccupying me as to how to make something of it—sailors coming back with their sweethearts toward the town, which projects the strange silhouette of its drawbridge against a huge yellow sun.
I have another study of the same drawbridge with a group of washerwomen. Shall be happy to have a line from you to know what you're doing and where you're going to go. A very warm handshake to you and the friends.
© 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.