My dear Bernard,
I feel impelled to apologize to you for having left you so
abruptly the other day. So I do so herewith without delay. I
recommend to you to read Tolstoi's Russian Legends, and I shall
also let you have the article on Eug. Delacroix I spoke of.
All the same, I myself went to see Guillaumin, but in the
evening, and I thought that perhaps you did not know his
address, which is 13 Quai d'Anjou. I believe that Guillaumin as
a human being has sounder ideas than the others, and if all
were like him they would produce more good things, and would
have less time and inclination to fight each other so
I persist in believing, not because I have given you a piece
of my mind, but because it will become your own conviction too
- I persist in believing that you will discover that in the
studios one not only does not learn much about painting, but
not even much good about the art of living; and that one finds
oneself forced to learn how to live in the same way one must
learn to paint, without having recourse to the old tricks and
eye-deceiving devices of intriguers.
I do not think your self-portrait will be either your last
or your best, although on the whole it is terribly
Listen now, what I tried to explain to you the other day
amounts roughly to this. In order to avoid generalizations,
allow me to take an example borrowed from reality. If you have
quarreled with a painter, and consequently say, “If
Signac exhibits in the place where I exhibit, I shall withdraw
my pictures,” and if you slander him, then it seems to me
that you are not acting as well as you might. For it is better
to look at things for a long time before judging so
categorically, and to think things over; for in case of
a quarrel, reflection shows us as many wrongs on our own part
as on the other's - and that the latter has as much raison
d'être as we would claim for our own.
So if you have already thought that Signac and others who
use pointillism quite often do very fine things for all that,
instead of slandering them you must respect them and speak
sympathetically of them, especially if there has been a
quarrel. Otherwise one becomes a sectarian, narrow-minded
oneself, and the equal of those who utterly despise all others
and believe themselves to be the only just ones.
This even extends as far as the academicians; take, for
example, a picture by Fantin-Latour, especially his work as a
whole. Well, here is one who never revolted, but does this
prevent him from having that something, whatever it may be, of
calm and fairness that makes him one of the most independent
Furthermore I wanted to say a few words about the military
service which you will have to perform. From now on you must
absolutely attend to that - directly in order to find out in
the first place what steps can be taken in such a case to
safeguard your right to work, to be able to choose your
garrison, etc., but indirectly in order to take care of your
health. You must not go there in too anemic or enervated a
condition, if you set a value on coming out of it stronger.
I do not consider it a great misfortune for you to be
obliged to be a soldier, but rather as a very serious trial
from which you will emerge - if you emerge at all - a very
Until then do your utmost to fortify yourself, for you will
need plenty of vigour. If you work a lot during that year, I
think you might end up by having a certain stock of pictures,
some of which we shall try to sell for you, as we know you will
need ready money to pay for models.
I shall be glad to do all I can to make a success of what we
began in the café, but I think that the primary
condition on which success depends is to set aside all petty
jealousies, for only union is strength. Surely the common
interest is worth the sacrifice of that selfishness of every
man for himself.
With a hearty handshake,
At this time, Vincent was 34 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Emile Bernard. Written Fall 1887 in Paris. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number B01.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.