Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 26 June 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.
Your letter gave me great pleasure—the SKETCH IS VERY INTERESTING and I do thank you for it—for my part I'll send you a drawing one of these days—this evening I'm too worn out in that respect; my eyes are tired, not to mention my brain.
Listen—do you remember John the Baptist by Puvis? I find it marvelous and as much the MAGICIAN as Eugène Delacroix.
The passage about John the Baptist that you dug out of the gospel is absolutely what you saw in it . . . People pressing around somebody—art thou Christ, art thou Elias? As it would be in our day to ask impressionism or one of its searcher-representatives, "have you found it?" That's just it.
At the moment my brother has an exhibition of Claude Monet—10 paintings done in Antibes from February to May. It seems it's very beautiful.
Have you ever read the life of Luther? Because Cranach, Dürer, Holbein belong to him—it's he—his personality—that's the lofty light of the Middle Ages.
I like the Sun King no more than you do—extinguisher of light it rather seems to me—that Louis xiv—my God, what a pain, in every way, that Methodist Solomon. I don't like Solomon either, and the Methodists not at all, as well. Solomon seems a hypocritical pagan to me; I really have no respect for his architecture, an imitation of other styles, nor for his writings, which the pagans have done much better.
Tell me a bit about where you stand as far as your military service is concerned; should I talk to that second lieutenant of Zouaves or not? Are you going to Africa or not? In your case, do the years count double in Africa or not? Most of all, see that your blood's in order—you don't get very far with anemia—painting goes slowly—better try to make your constitution as tough as old boots, a constitution to make old bones—better live like a monk who goes to the brothel once a fortnight— I do that, it's not very poetical—but anyway—I feel that my duty is to subordinate my life to painting.
If I was in the Louvre with you, I'd really like to see the primitives with you.
In the Louvre, I still return with great love to the Dutch, Rembrandt first and foremost— Rembrandt whom I once studied so thoroughly—then Potter, for example—who makes—on a no. 4 or no. 6 panel, a white stallion alone in a meadow, a stallion neighing, and with a hard-on —forlorn under a sky brewing up a thunderstorm—heartbroken in the tender green immensity of a wet meadow—ah well, there are wonderful things in the old Dutchmen having no connection with anything at all. Handshake, and thank you again for your letter and for your sketch.
The sonnets are going well—i.e.—the color in them is good—the design isn't as strong, less sure of itself, rather; the conception's still hesitant, I don't know how to put it—its moral purpose isn't clear.
© 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.