Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, ca. 22 May 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.
Then a view of Arles—of the town you see only a few red roofs and a tower, the rest's hidden by the foliage of fig trees, etc.
All that far off in the background and a narrow strip of blue sky above. The town is surrounded by vast meadows decked with innumerable buttercups—a yellow sea. These meadows are intersected in the foreground by a ditch full of purple irises. They cut the grass while I was painting, so it's only a study and not a finished painting, which I intended to make of it. But what a subject—eh—that sea of yellow flowers with a line of purple irises and in the background the neat little town of pretty women. Then two studies of roadsides—afterwards—done out in the mistral.
If you were not expecting my reply right away, I'd make sketches. Courage, good luck, handshake. I'm worn out this evening.
I'll write to you again one of these days, more at my ease.
P.S. The sketch of the woman in the last letter but one is really pretty. My address:
Place Lamartine 2
© 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.