Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 8 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.
So there are relatively few paintings of vineyards, which are nevertheless of such changing beauty. So there's still plenty for me to fiddle around with here.
Look here, what I very much regret not having seen at the Exhibition is a series of houses of all the nations; I think it was Garnier or Viollet-le-Duc who organized it. Well, could you, who will have seen it, give me an idea, and especially a sketch with the color of the primitive Egyptian house? It must be very simple, a square block, I believe, on a terrace—but I should like to know the coloring too. I was reading in an article that it was blue, red and yellow.
Did you pay attention to it? Please inform me without fail! And it must not be confused with the Persian or the Moroccan; there must be some that are more or less it, but not it.
Anyway, for me the most wonderful thing that I know in terms of architecture is the cottage with a mossy thatched roof, with its blackened hearth. So I'm very fussy. I saw a sketch of ancient Mexican houses in an illustrated magazine; that, too, seemed primitive and really beautiful. Ah, if only one knew the things of those days, and if one could paint the people of those days who lived in them—it would be as beautiful as Millet. Anyway, what we do know that's solid these days, then, is Millet; I'm not talking about color—but as character, as something significant, as something in which one has solid faith.
Now, about your service; will you go? I hope you'll go to see my canvases again when I send the studies of autumn, in November. And if possible let me know what you've brought back from Brittany, because I'd really like to know what you yourself believe to be your best things. So I'll write again soon.
I'm working on a large canvas of a ravine; it's a subject just like the study with a yellow tree that I still have from you, two bases of extremely solid rocks, between which a trickle of water flows, a third mountain that closes off the ravine. These motifs certainly have a beautiful melancholy, and it's enjoyable to work in really wild sites where you have to bury your easel in the stones so that the wind doesn't send everything flying to the ground.
© 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.