Letter 4, page 2

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Vincent van Gogh
(1853–1890)

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 19 April 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: 

But all in all it's not as good as your painting yet. Never mind. It'll come, and you must certainly continue doing sonnets. There are so many people, especially among our pals, who imagine that words are nothing. On the contrary, don't you think, it's as interesting and as difficult to say a thing well as to paint a thing. There's the art of lines and colors, but there's the art of words that will last just the same. Here's a new orchard, quite simple in composition: a white tree, a small green tree, a square corner of greenery—a lilac field, an orange roof, a big blue sky. Have nine orchards in progress; one white, one pink, one almost red pink, one white and blue, one pink and gray, one green and pink.

I worked one to death yesterday, of a cherry tree against blue sky, the young shoots of the leaves were orange and gold, the clusters of flowers white. That, against the blue green of the sky, was darned glorious. Unfortunately there's rain today, which prevents me going back on the attack.

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.