Letter 16, page 4

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Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 25 September 1888

About this exhibition: 

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.


I'm not in any hurry for anything, now. Projects so often fall through, and the best calculations you make; while by taking advantage of chance, and working from day to day without bias, you do a whole lot of unforeseen things.

So in no way can I encourage you to come here with the express purpose—excellent, without any doubt—of doing brothels. I repeat, once you're a soldier, you'll have a splendid opportunity for that, and in your own interest you would perhaps do well to wait until you have your uniform.

But, my dear old Bernard, I want to be very clear and plain in saying to you, do come and spend your time in Africa. The south will delight you and make you a great artist; Gauguin himself owes his superiority to the south. I've been looking at the stronger sun down here for months and months now. And the result is that, from the point of view of color, what remains more than anything for me, having gained the experience, is Delacroix and Monticelli, those painters who nowadays are wrongly said to be pure romantics, people of exaggerated imagination. But anyway, do you see, the south, that was done so drily by Gérôme and Fromentin, is from this place on essentially a region whose intimate charm could only be interpreted by a colorist's color. I hope that you'll write to me again soon. I daren't take it upon myself to encourage just anyone to come here; if somebody comes of his own accord, well, that's his business, but as far as advising the thing, I'll never do it. For myself, I'm staying here, and naturally it would please me greatly if you were to spend the winter here. Handshake.

Ever yours,


© 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.