My dear comrade Bernard,
Many thanks for the sonnets you sent me; I very much like
the form and the sonorous melody of the first one:
Sous les dômes dormeurs des arbres
[Beneath the sleeping domes of the gigantic trees.]
However, with regard to idea and sentiment it may be that I
prefer the last one:
Car J'espoir dans mon sein a versé sa
[For hope has poured into my breast its neurosis.]
But it seems to me that you do not say clearly enough what
you want to make felt - the certainty that one seems to have,
and which one can in any case prove, of the nothingness, the
emptiness, the betrayal of the desirable good and beautiful
things; and that, despite this knowledge, one lets oneself be
eternally fooled by the charm which external life, the things
outside ourselves, exercises on our six senses, as if one did
not know anything, and especially not the difference between
objectivity and subjectivity. Fortunately for us we remain
stupid and hopeful in this way.
Now I also like:
L'hiver, n'avoir ni sou, ni fleurs -
[Winter, having neither a sou nor flowers - ]
and “Mépris.” [Contempt.]
I think “Coin de chapelle” [Corner of a Chapel]
and “Dessin d'Albrecht Dürer” less clear; for
instance, which exactly is the drawing by Albrecht Dürer?
But nevertheless there are excellent passages in it:
Venus des plaines bleues
Blemis par la longueur des lieues.
[Come from the blue plains,
Paled by the length of the leagues.]
renders very smartly the landscapes bristling with blue
rocks, between which the roads meander, as in the backgrounds
of Cranach and Van Eyck.
Tordu sur sa croix en spirale
[Twisted on his spiralled cross]
conveys very well the exaggerated leanness of the mystic
Christs. But why not add that the anguished look of the martyr
is, like the eye of a cab horse, infinitely sad; that would
make it more Parisian of Paris, where one sees such looks in
the eyes of the superannuated nags of the little carriages as
well as in those of the poets, artists.
In short it is not as good as your painting yet; never mind,
it will come; you must certainly continue your sonnets. There
are so many people, especially among our comrades, who imagine
that words are nothing - on the contrary, isn't it true that
saying a thing well is as interesting and as difficult as
painting it? There is the art of lanes and colours, but the art
of words is there nonetheless, and will remain.
[Vincent sketched Orchard in Blossom here.]
Here is another orchard, rather simple as a composition: a
white tree, a small green tree, a square patch of green, lilac
soil, an orange roof, a large blue sky. I am
working on nine orchards: one white; one pink, almost red; one
white-blue; one grayish pink; one green and pink. Yesterday I
overdid one [canvas] of a cherry tree against a blue sky; the
young leaf shoots were orange and gold, the clusters of flowers
white, and that against the green-blue of the sky was
wonderfully glorious. Unfortunately there is rain today which
prevents my returning to the charge.
I saw a brothel here last Sunday - not counting the other
days - a large room, the walls covered with blued whitewash -
like a village school. Fifty or more military men in red and
civilians in black their faces a magnificent yellow or orange
(what hues there are in the faces here), the women in sky blue,
in vermilion, as unqualified and garish as possible. The whole
in a yellow light. A good deal less gloomy than the same
kind of offices in Paris.
There is no “spleen” 1 in the air
but after that I shall have to make
a lot of noise, as I aspire to share the glory of the immortal
Tartarin de Tarascon.
I was enormously interested to hear that you intend to spend
your time [as a soldier] in Algeria. That is perfect, and quite
far from being a misfortune. Really, I congratulate you on it;
at any rate we shall see each other in Marseilles.
You will see how delighted you will be with seeing the blue
here and with feeling the sun. At present I have a terrace for
I certainly intend to go do seascapes at Marseilles too; I
don't yearn for the grey sea of the North. If you see Gauguin,
remember me most kindly to him. I must write to him right
My dear comrade Bernard, don't despair and above all don't
have spleen, old fellow, for with your talent and
with your stay in Algeria you will turn out a wonderfully good
and true artist. You too will belong to the South. If I have
any advice to give you it is to fortify yourself to eat healthy
things, yes, a full year in advance - from now on -
This was the case with me, and although I am recovering, I
am recovering slowly, and I regret not having been a bit more
careful beforehand. But not such a damnable winter as the past
one - what was there to be done? - for it was a superhuman
Write to me soon, always the same address:
“Restaurant Carrel, Arles.”
Vincent uses this word in the French sense, i.e.
weariness of life coupled with eccentricity of
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Emile Bernard. Written c. 21 April 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number B04.
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