Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 5 August 1888, Letter 14, page 3
Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007
The Dutchmen, now, we see them painting things just as they are, apparently without thought,
the way Courbet painted his beautiful naked women.
They make portraits, landscapes, still lifes. One could be stupider than that and commit greater
If we do not know what to do, my dear old Bernard, then let's do the same as they, if only so as
not to allow our scarce mental powers to evaporate in sterile metaphysical meditations that aren't
up to bottling chaos, which is chaotic for the very reason that it won't fit into any glass of our caliber.
We can—and that's what those Dutchmen did, desperately clever in the eyes of people wedded
to system—we can paint an atom of chaos. A horse, a portrait, your grandmother, apples, a landscape.
Why do you say that Degas has trouble getting a hard-on? Degas lives like a little lawyer, and he
doesn't like women, knowing that if he liked them and fucked them a lot he would become cerebrally
ill and hopeless at painting. Degas's painting is virile and impersonal precisely because he has
resigned himself to being personally no more than a little lawyer, with a horror of riotous living. He
watches human animals stronger than himself getting a hard-on and fucking, and he paints them
well, precisely because he doesn't make such great claims about getting a hard-on.
Rubens, ah, there you have it, he was a handsome man and a good fucker, Courbet too;
their health allowed them to drink, eat, fuck.
In your case, my poor dear old Bernard, I already told you last spring. Eat well, do your military
drill well, don't fuck too hard; if you don't fuck too hard, your painting will be all the spunkier
© 2007 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam