Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 30 July 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.
This fully understood, ALL this glorious republic, represented by these two prolific portraitists, re-created in broad strokes, we retain very wide margins for landscapes, interior scenes, animals, philosophical subjects.
But I beg you, carefully follow this straightforward argument, which I am doing my utmost to present to you in a very very simple way.
Get him into your head, this Master Frans Hals, painter of various portraits of a whole selfassured and lively and immortal republic. Get into your head the no less great and universal master portrait painter of the Dutch republic, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, a broad and naturalistic and healthy man, as much as Hals himself. And after that we'll see flowing from that source, Rembrandt, the direct and true pupils, Vermeer of Delft, Fabritius, Nicolaas Maes, Pieter de Hooch, Bol; and those influenced by him, Potter, Ruisdael, Ostade, ter Borch. I mention Fabritius to you there, by whom we know only—two canvases—I don't mention a heap of good painters, and especially not the paste of these diamonds, paste firmly embedded in ordinary French skulls.
Am I, my dear old Bernard, terribly incomprehensible this time? I'm trying to make you see the great simple thing, the painting of humanity, let us rather say of a whole republic, through the simple medium of the portrait. This first and foremost; later———if, on the subject of Rembrandt, we're dealing to some extent with magic, with Christs and nude women, it's very interesting—but it's not the main thing. Let Baudelaire hold his tongue in this department, they're resounding words, and how hollow!!! Let's take Baudelaire for what he is, a modern poet just as Musset is another, but let them leave us alone when we're talking painting.
I don't like your drawing Lubricity as much as the others; I like the tree, however, it has a great look.
© 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.