Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 5 August 1888, Letter 14, page 2
Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007
I myself rather like this anecdote about Giotto—there was a competition for the execution of
some painting or other of a Virgin. Lots of proposals were sent to the fine arts authorities of those
days. One of these proposals, signed Giotto, was simply—an oval—[sketch] an egg shape—the
authorities, intrigued and trusting—entrust the Virgin in question—to Giotto. Whether it's true
or not, I don't know, but I rather like the anecdote.
However, let's return to Daumier and to your grandmother. When are you going to show us
more of them, studies of that soundness? I urge you to do so, while at the same time in no way
belittling your investigations concerning the properties of lines in contrary motion—being not at
all indifferent, I hope, to the simultaneous contrasts of lines, of forms. The trouble is, do you see,
my dear old Bernard, that Giotto, Cimabue, as well as Holbein and van Eyck, lived in an obeliscal—
if you'll pardon the expression—society, layered, architecturally constructed, in which each
individual was a stone, all of them holding together and forming a monumental society. I have
no doubt that we'll again see an incarnation of this society when the socialists logically build their
social edifice—from which they're a fair distance away yet. But you know we're in a state of total
laxity and anarchy.
We, artists in love with order and symmetry, isolate ourselves and work to define one single
Puvis knows that very well, and when he, so wise and so just, decided to descend goodnaturedly
into the intimacy of our very own epoch, forgetting his Elysian Fields, he made a
very fine portrait, the serene old man in his bright, blue interior, reading the novel with a yellow
cover—a glass of water beside him, in which a watercolor brush and a rose. And also a society lady,
like those the de Goncourts portrayed.
© 2007 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam