Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 5 August 1888, Letter 14, page 4
Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007
Ah, Balzac, that great and powerful artist, already told us very well that for modern artists a
certain chastity made them stronger.
The Dutchmen were married people making children, a beautiful, very beautiful occupation,
One swallow doesn't make a summer. I'm not saying that among your new Breton studies there
aren't some virile and strong ones, but I haven't seen them yet and so wouldn't be able to talk about
them. But—I have seen those virile things, the portrait of your grandmother and the still lifes—
judging from your drawings I have vague doubts whether these new studies would have the same
vigor, just from the virile point of view.
These studies that I'm talking about first, you see it's the first swallow of your summertime as
an artist. If we want, ourselves, to get a hard-on for our work, we must sometimes resign ourselves
to fucking only a little, and for the rest to be, according as our temperament demands, soldiers or
monks. The Dutchmen, once again, had morals, and a quiet, calm, well-ordered life.
Delacroix, ah, him—"I," he said, "found painting when I had no teeth nor breath left." And
those who saw this famous artist paint said: when Delacroix paints it's like the lion devouring his
piece of flesh. He fucked only a little, and had only casual love affairs so as not to filch from the
time devoted to his work. If in this letter, on the face of it more incoherent, and taken on its own
without its connections to the previous correspondence and above all, friendship, than I should
wish—If in this letter you find that I have some anxieties—concerns in any case—for your health,
foreseeing the hard ordeal that you'll have to go through in doing your service, obligatory, alas,—
then you will read it correctly. I know that the study of the Dutchmen could only do you good,
their works being so virile and so spunky and so healthy.
© 2007 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam