Letter 5, page 2

Primary tabs

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, ca. 22 May 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.


Ah, you do darned well to think of Gauguin—they're high poetry, his negresses—and everything his hand makes has a sweet, heartrending, astonishing character. People don't understand him yet, and he suffers greatly from not selling, like other true poets.

My dear pal, I would have written to you sooner, only have had quite a few things on my hands; I've sent a first batch of studies to my brother is one, I've had trouble with my health is two, and three is that I've rented a house painted yellow outside, whitewashed inside, in the full sun (four rooms).

With all that, new studies in progress. And in the evening I was often too numbed to write.

That's why my reply was delayed.

Listen, the sonnet about the women of the boulevard has some good things, but it isn't there yet—the end's banal.

A "sublime" woman, I don't know what you mean by that, nor do you in this case.


"Hunting among the clan of old and young
Those whom she'll take to bed late at night."

Something like that—It's not characteristic, because


© 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.