Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 30 July 1888, Letter 13, page 3
Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007
Possible that these great geniuses are no more than loonies, and that to have faith and boundless
admiration for them you'd have to be a loony too. That may well be—I would prefer my madness
to other people's wisdom.
To go to Rembrandt indirectly is perhaps the most direct route. Let's talk about Frans Hals.
Never did he paint Christs, annunciations to shepherds, angels or crucifixions and resurrections;
never did he paint voluptuous and bestial naked women.
He painted portraits; nothing nothing nothing but that.
Portraits of soldiers, gatherings of officers, portraits of magistrates assembled for the business
of the republic, portraits of matrons with pink or yellow skin, wearing white bonnets, dressed in
wool and black satin, discussing the budget of an orphanage or an almshouse; he did portraits of
good citizens with their families, the man, his wife, his child; he painted the sozzled drinker,
the old fishwife full of a witch's mirth, the beautiful gypsy whore, babies in swaddling clothes,
the gallant, bon vivant gentleman, mustachioed, booted and spurred; he painted himself and
his wife as young lovers on a turf bench in a garden, after their first wedding night. He painted
guttersnipes and laughing urchins, he painted musicians and he painted a fat cook.
He doesn't know much more than that, but it's———————well worth Dante's Paradise
and the Michelangelos and Raphaels and even the Greeks. It's beautiful like Zola, and healthier
and more cheerful, but just as alive, because his epoch was healthier and less sad. Now what is
Rembrandt? The same thing entirely—a painter of portraits. That's the healthy, broad, clear idea
that one must have first of all of the two eminent Dutchmen, who are on a par, before going into
the subject more deeply.
© 2007 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam