Press release date: 
Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Morgan Library announced today that it has received from the collection of Eugene and Clare Thaw a promised gift of twenty letters written by the great postimpressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Unseen for seventy years and containing thirteen drawings by van Gogh, the letters, addressed to the artist's younger colleague Émile Bernard (1868–1941), chronicle van Gogh's artistic activity from early 1887 until winter 1889 and document the close, vital friendship between the two artists.

Portions of the correspondence were first published by Bernard himself in French newspapers following van Gogh's death. The contents of each of the twenty van Gogh–Bernard letters are known from the French dealer Ambrose Vollard's original publication in 1911, which was followed by an English translation of the letters published by art critic Douglas Cooper (writing under the name Douglas Lord) in 1938. The location of the cache of correspondence between the two artists has long been unknown; the letters were acquired privately by Eugene V. Thaw from a descendant of the Rothschild family.

"Once again the Morgan has been enriched by the extraordinary generosity of Gene and Clare Thaw," said Charles E. Pierce, Jr., Director of the Morgan Library. "Because the Morgan collects both drawings and manuscripts, illustrated artists' letters are splendidly appropriate. The van Gogh correspondence is thus a very important addition to our collections."

The letters contain thirteen sketches by van Gogh related to canvases painted between 1887 and 1889, while he was working in Arles and St. Rémy. The drawings, intended to provide Bernard with images of the paintings van Gogh discussed in his letters, include studies related to 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. Also included is a sketch of Bernard's Madeleine dans la Bois d'Amour, which van Gogh sketched with surprising accuracy based solely on Paul Gauguin's (1848–1903) description of the work.

Background of the Thaw Collection

Eugene Thaw's formidable knowledge of art history, keen sense of quality, and deep understanding of the goals of museums and private collectors are inextricable from his success as a dealer in paintings, drawings, and sculpture. It is inevitable, perhaps, that he and his wife, Clare, should also have begun to collect for themselves. In the decades since the early 1950s, when they acquired their first drawing, a figure study by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770), they have assembled one of the finest collections of drawings and watercolors in private hands. It never was their intention that it be comprehensive; instead they have focused upon the work of specific draftsmen and types of drawings that particularly appealed to them. They have emphasized the incunabula of drawing—sheets datable to the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries—on the one hand, and works from the eighteenth to the first half of the twentieth centuries on the other. In 1975 the Thaws announced their intention to present the collection to the Morgan Library, in stages, during their lifetime.

Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard, 1887–1889

To share these rarely seen letters with the public, the Morgan is organizing a major loan show entitled Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard, 1887–1889, which will be on view from September 2007 through January 2008. The exhibition will explore the intimate connection between the artists as expressed through their correspondence. Comprising all twenty-one extant letters from van Gogh to Bernard, including a letter now in the Frits Lugt Collection, Institut Néerlandais, Paris, the show will feature a selection of paintings and drawings by van Gogh directly related to the sketches in the letters. Also included will be works discussed by van Gogh in his correspondence with Bernard as well as a group of works by Bernard during the period in which he was closely associated with van Gogh. The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue of the letters. Written by Hans Luijten and Leo Jansen of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, it will be the most informative and accurate publication of the Bernard letters to date.

The letters are a significant addition to the Morgan's substantial collection of artist's letters, which date from the fifteenth through twentieth centuries. The van Gogh–Bernard correspondence enriches the collection of autograph material from this period and joins letters by Gauguin, Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), and other contemporaries of van Gogh.