Letter 9, page 1

Vincent van Gogh
(1853–1890)

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 27 June 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: 

My dear Bernard—
I don't know what I stuck into my letter of yesterday instead of the enclosed sheet on the subject of your last sonnet. The fact is that I am so worn out by work that in the evening—although writing is restful for me—I'm like a broken-down machine, so much has the day in the full sun tired me otherwise. And that's why I stuck another sheet into your letter instead of this one.

On rereading yesterday's sheet—well, I'm sending you it as it is; on rereading it, it seems legible to me and so I'm sending you it.

Another hard day's work today.

If you saw my canvases, what would you say about them—you wouldn't find Cézanne's almost diffident and conscientious brushstroke there.

But since at present I am painting the same countryside of La Crau and the Camargue—although in a slightly different place—nevertheless, certain color relationships could remain. What do I know about it—from time to time I couldn't help thinking of Cézanne, particularly when I realized that his touch is so clumsy in certain studies—disregard the word clumsy—seeing that he probably executed those studies when the mistral was blowing.

Having to deal with the same difficulty half the time, I can explain why Cézanne's touch is sometimes so sure and sometimes seems awkward. It's his easel that's wobbling.

I have sometimes worked excessively fast; is that a fault? I can't help it.

For example I've painted a no. 30 canvas—the summer evening—at a single sitting.

It's not possible to rework it; to destroy it—why, because I deliberately went outside to make it, out in the mistral.

Isn't it rather intensity of thought than calmness of touch that we're looking for—and in the given circumstances of impulsive work on the spot and from life, is a calm and controlled touch always possible? Well—it seems to me—no more than fencing moves during an 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.