My dear friend Bernard,
Many, many thanks for the drawings you sent me. I very much
like the avenue of plane trees along the seashore with the two
women talking in the foreground and people strolling about. And
the woman under the apple tree, the woman with the umbrella.
Then the four drawings of nude women, especially the one who is
washing herself, a grey effect, enhanced with black, white,
yellow, brown. It's charming.
But then, I am scarcely an eccentric; a Greek statue, a
peasant by Millet, a Dutch portrait, a female nude by Courbet
or Degas, these calm and perfectly modelled representations are
the reason why very many other things, the primitives no less
than the Japanese, give me the impression of having been
composed with the pen. I find that immensely
interesting, but anything complete and perfect renders infinity
tangible, and the enjoyment of any beautiful thing is like
coitus, a moment of infinity.
Do you, for instance, know a painter called Vermeer, who,
among other things, painted a very beautiful and pregnant Dutch
lady? The palette of this remarkable painter is blue, lemon
yellow, pearl grey, black, white. Of course, all the riches of
a full palette are there too, in his rarely encountered
pictures, but the combination of lemon yellow, pale blue and
pearl grey is as characteristic of him - black, white, grey and
pink are of Velásquez.
Anyway, I know perfectly well that Rembrandt and the Dutch
painters are scattered widely over museums and collections, and
it isn't very easy to get an overall idea of them if you only
know the Louvre. Yet it is the French, Charles Blanc,
Thoré, Fromentin and several others, who have written
about their art better than the Dutch have.
Those Dutch painters had hardly any imagination or fantasy,
but an enormous amount of taste and a feeling for composition
They did no paintings of Christ, Our Lord, etc. - Rembrandt
did, of course, but he was the only one (and biblical subjects
are relatively rare in his work). He was the only one who,
exceptionally, painted figures of Christ, etc. And with him,
they look quite unlike anything done by other religious
painters, it is all metaphysical magic
This is how Rembrandt painted angels. He does a
self-portrait, old, toothless, wrinkled, wearing a cotton cap,
a picture from life, in a mirror. He is dreaming, dreaming, and
his brush takes up his self-portrait again, but this time from
memory, and the expression on the face becomes sadder and more
saddening, He dreams, dreams on, and why or how I cannot tell,
but - as Socrates and Mohammed had their guardian spirits, so
Rembrandt paints a supernatural angel with a da Vinci smile
behind that old man who resembles himself
I am showing you a painter who dreams and paints from the
imagination, and I started by contending that it is
characteristic of the Dutch that they do not invent anything,
that they have neither imagination nor fantasy.
Am I being illogical? No.
Rembrandt did not invent anything, and that angel and that
strange Christ came about because he knew them, felt that they
Delacroix paints a Christ using the unexpected note of
bright lemon yellow in such a way that the colourful and
radiant note in the picture assumes the inexpressible
strangeness and charm of a star in a corner of the firmament
Rembrandt works with tonal values in the same way that
Delacroix works with colours
Well now, there is a world of difference between the method
used by Delacroix and Rembrandt and that of all other religious
I'll write again soon. This is to thank you for the
drawings, which have given me enormous pleasure. I have just
finished a portrait of a girl of 12, brown eyes, black hair and
black eyebrows, yellowish-grey flesh, white background,
strongly tinged with Veronese green, a blood-red bodice with
violet stripes. Blue skin with large orange polka dots, an
oleander flower in the sweet little hand. Goodbye for now, and once more many thanks,
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Emile Bernard. Written c. 23 July 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number B12.
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