No nineteenth-century painter has left as much correspondence as Vincent van Gogh, and no artist's thoughts and sentiments framing his works of art are as accessible. Most of Van Gogh's letters--only a few written to him survive--are preserved in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, with smaller caches in various institutions abroad. The Morgan preserves a cache of twenty-one letters sent by van Gogh to Emile Bernard and this single sheet addressed to Gauguin.
Like many of van Gogh's letters, the present one expresses a mood. He had come to know Gauguin in Paris when Vincent lived with his brother, Theo, from 1886 until he departed for Arles in February 1888. A few months after his arrival in the southern town, he wrote to Theo that he had found a studio for rent, which he dubbed the "yellow house." Seeing a kindred spirit in Gauguin, van Gogh imagined working with him would be a mutually fruitful and revealing experience. He repeatedly urged Gauguin to come to Arles. In the present letter, he conveyed his gratitude to Gauguin for having decided to come to Arles by the twentieth of October 1888. He extolled the attractions of Arles and the intensity of the sunlight and minimized the unpleasant and depressing effects of the cold, biting mistral of the season.
Looking forward to working with Gauguin, he installed gas lighting so they could work through the winter and made light of the financial hazards they undoubtedly were to face. His efforts were premature, however. Gauguin did arrive before the end of the month, but by late December, they had already parted ways: After repeated episodes of instability, van Gogh was admitted to the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and Gauguin left Arles.
The letter also chronicles van Gogh's work on one of his masterpieces from the period, the Bedroom at Arles, and contains a sketch of the composition. The original canvas is now in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; a second version is in the Art Institute of Chicago. A third, smaller variant, made for his mother and sister later that month, is in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
Van Gogh developed the idea for Bedroom at Arles in a few days. Having begun by 16 October, he finished the canvas two days later. In a letter to Theo of 16 October 1888, Vincent wrote: "At last I can send you a little sketch to give you a least an idea of the way the work is shaping up. For today I am all right again. My eyes are still tired, but then I had a new idea in my head and here is the sketch of it...This time it is simply my bedroom, only here color is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination."
The following day, the artist wrote the present letter to Gauguin whose arrival in Arles had been postponed due to illness. He described the painting and provided a sketch of the composition that more closely reflected the final painting than did the one he sent to Theo: "I have done, still for my decoration, a size 30 canvas of my bedroom with the white deal furniture that you know. Well, I enormously enjoyed doing this interior of nothing at all, of a Seurat-like simplicity, with flat tints, but brushed on roughly, with a thick impasto, the walls pale lilac, the ground a faded broken red, the chairs and the bed chrome yellow, the pillows and the sheet a very pale green-citron, the counterpane blood-red, the washstand orange, the washbasin blue, the windows green. By means of all these very diverse tones I have wanted to express an absolute restfulness, you see..."
On 18 October 1888, van Gogh again wrote to Theo, adding as a postscript: "I am adding a line to tell you that this afternoon I finished the canvas representing the bedroom." A few days later, on 23 October, Gauguin finally arrived to share the yellow house with van Gogh.
Pen and dark brown ink on two sheets of graph paper, joined vertically.
Inscribed in graphite at upper left, "1890", at upper right, "22", at lower right, "22"; inscribed on verso, at lower right, "9766" and "1000"; in graphite below image, "le dessin seulement"; marked at upper left in blue crayon, "x".