Letter 9, page 4

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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: 

I listen, meditative and interested; I watch, but if, later, the surgeon-anatomist is going to moralize at me like that, I find that that last tirade does not have the same value as the anatomy demonstration.

To study, to analyze society, that always says more than moralizing.

Nothing would seem more curious to me, however, than to say, for example: "see that meat from the market, notice how, all the same, despite everything, it can still be electrified for a moment by the stimulus of a love more refined and unexpected."

Like the sated caterpillar that no longer eats, that crawls on a wall instead of crawling on a cabbage leaf, this sated female can no longer love, either, even though she goes about it—she seeks, seeks, seeks, does she herself know what for? She's conscientious, alive, responsive, galvanized, rejuvenated for a moment, but powerless. Yet she still loves—her life's there, then—make no bones about it—despite the fact that she's finished and dying as an earthly creature. The butterfly, where does the butterfly emerge, from that sated caterpillar—the cockchafer from that white grub?

Here, by the way, is where I am in terms of studies of old whores———I would also very much like to know roughly what I am the larva of myself, perhaps.

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.