Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard

September 28, 2007, through January 6, 2008
Image of Van Gogh Collection Highlights

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. Unseen for nearly seventy years and never before exhibited, the twenty letters document the close, vital friendship of the two artists.

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. The letters include no fewer 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.

To complement the letters, more than twenty paintings, drawings, and watercolors by van Gogh and Bernard are on view. These works document their dynamic exchange of ideas. Among them are paintings and drawings discussed and sketched by van Gogh in his letters to Bernard. The works of art are drawn mostly from collections outside of New York and feature numerous works not recently shown in the U.S.

Major support for Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard and its accompanying catalog is provided by the International Music and Art Foundation. Generous support is also provided by the Robert Lehman Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait: Three Quarters to the Right (detail), 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 18 March 1888, Letter 2 (detail), Thaw Collection, The Pierpont Morgan Library; Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees (detail), 1889, National Gallery of Scotland.