Letter 5, page 1

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Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, ca. 22 May 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.


My dear Bernard,
I've just received your last letter—you're quite right to see that those negresses were heartrending— you're quite right not to find it innocent.

I've just read a book—not beautiful and not well written, by the way—on the Marquesas Islands, but very heartrending in its description of the extermination of an entire tribe of natives—cannibals in the sense that let's say an individual was eaten once a month, and what of that?

The whites, very Christian, etc., to put an end to this barbarity? REALLY NOT VERY SAVAGE. . . . could think of nothing better than to exterminate both the tribe of cannibal natives and the tribe with which the former was at war (in order to obtain the requisite edible prisoners of war on both sides). Then the two islands were annexed, and did they become dismal!!! Those tattooed races, those negroes, those Indians, everything, everything, everything disappears or is corrupted. And the frightful white man, with his bottle of alcohol, his wallet and his pox, when will we have seen enough of him! The frightful white man, with his hypocrisy, his greed and his sterility! And those savages were so gentle and so loving.


© 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.