Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 30 July 1888, Letter 13, page 1
Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007
My dear old Bernard.
You'll agree, I've no doubt at all, that neither you nor I can have a full idea of what Velázquez and
Goya were like as men and as painters, because neither you nor I have seen Spain, their country,
and so many fine things that have remained in the south. Even so, what we know of them does
count for something in itself.
It goes without saying that for the northerners, Rembrandt first and foremost, it is extremely
desirable, when judging these painters, to know both their work in its full extent and their country,
and the rather intimate and hidden history of those days, and of the customs of the ancient country.
I want to repeat to you that neither Baudelaire nor you has a sufficiently clear idea when it
comes to Rembrandt.
And when it comes to you, I could not encourage you enough to take a long look at major
and minor Dutchmen before arriving at an opinion. Here it's not just a matter of strange precious
stones, but it's a matter of sorting out marvels from among marvels.
And a fair amount of paste from among the diamonds. Thus for myself, having been studying
my country's school for twenty years now, in most cases I wouldn't even reply if the subject came
up, so much do I generally hear people talk beside the point when the painters of the north are
So to you I can only reply, come on, just look a little more closely than that; really, it's worth
the effort a thousand times over.
Now if, for example, I claim that the van Ostade in the Louvre, which shows the painter's family,
the man, the wife, the ten or so kids, is a painting infinitely deserving of study and thought,
just like ter Borch's Peace of Münster. If the paintings in the gallery in the Louvre that I personally
prefer and find the most astonishing are very often forgotten by the very artists who go to see the
Dutchmen, then I'm not in the least surprised, knowing that my own choice in that gallery is based
on a knowledge of this subject that most of the French could not have.
© 2007 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam