My dear comrade Bernard,
The package you and Gauguin sent arrived almost
simultaneously with the forwarding of my studies. I was very
much amused; it warmed my heart greatly to see those two faces
again. As for your portrait, you know, I like it very much. As
a matter of fact I like everything you do very much, as you
know, and possibly there has not been anybody before me who
liked what you do as much as I.
I strongly urge you to study portrait painting, do as many
portraits as you can and don't flag. We must win the public
over later on by means of the portrait; in my opinion it is the
thing of the future. But don't let's lose our way in hypotheses
And now that I have started thanking you, I thank you
furthermore for the batch of sketches entitled “At the
Brothel.” Bravo! It seems to me that the woman washing
herself and the one saying, “There is none other like me
when it comes to exhausting a man,” are the best; the
others are grimacing too much, and above all they are done too
vaguely, they are too little living flesh, not built up
sufficiently. But no matter, these other ones too are something
quite new and interesting. At the brothel! Yes, that's what one
ought to do, and I assure you that I for one am almost jealous
of the damned fine opportunity you will have of going there in
your uniform, - which these good little women dote on.
The poem at the end is really beautiful; it stands more firmly
on its own feet than certain figures. What you want to express
and what you say you believe, you say well and sonorously.
Let me know when you will be in Paris. The fact is that I have
already written you a thousand times that my night café
isn't a brothel; it is a café where night prowlers cease
to be night prowlers, because they flop down at a table and
spend the whole night thus without prowling at all. It may
happen that a whore brings her fellow along.
But going in one evening I came upon a little group, a pimp
and his whore making up after a fight. The woman pretended to
be indifferent and haughty, the man was wheedling. I got busy
painting it for you from memory on a little canvas,
size 4 or 6. So if you are leaving soon, I will send it
to you in Paris; if you are staying on, let me know; it was not
dry enough to be included in the package.
I have mercilessly destroyed one important canvas - a
“Christ with the Angel in Gethsemane” - and another
one representing the “Poet against a Starry Sky” -
in spite of the fact that the colour was right - because the
form had not been studied beforehand from the model, which is
necessary in such cases. As for the study I am sending you in
exchange, if you do not like it, you will only have to look at
it a little longer.
I had a devil of a job doing it during a pestering mistral
(just like the study in red and green). And look, although it
is not painted as fluently as the “Old Mill,” it is
more delicate and intimate. You will see that all this isn't in
the least impressionistic; dear me, all the worse then. I am
doing what I am doing, surrendering myself to nature, without
thinking of this or that. Of course, if you should prefer
another study in this batch to the “Men Unloading
Sand,” you can take it and erase the dedication, if
someone else will have it. But I think you will like this one,
once you have looked at it a bit longer.
If Laval, Moret and the other one 1 want to
exchange with me, splendid! But for my part I should be
particularly delighted if they would paint their portraits for
You know, Bernard, I feel sure that if I wanted to do studies
of brothels, it would cost me more money than I have; I am no
longer young and my body is not attractive enough to women to
get them to pose for me free for nothing.
And I cannot work without a model. I won't say that I don't
turn my back on nature ruthlessly in order to turn a study into
a picture, arranging the colours, enlarging and simplifying;
but in the matter of form I am too afraid of departing from the
possible and the true.
I don't mean I won't do it after another ten years of painting
studies, but, to tell the honest truth, my attention is so
fixed on what is possible and really exists that I hardly have
the desire or the courage to strive for the ideal as it might
result from my abstract studies.
Others may have more lucidity than I do in the matter of
abstract studies, and it is certainly possible that you are one
of their number, Gauguin too ... and perhaps I myself when I am
But in the meantime I am getting well acquainted with nature.
You will probably think these studies ugly. I don't know. In
any case neither you, nor I, nor anybody else should make an
exchange unwillingly. My brother writes me that Anquetin is
back in Paris, I should like to know what he has done. When you
see him, remember me most kindly to him.
My house will seem to me more lived-in now that I am going to
see the portraits in it. How delighted I should be to see you
yourself in it this winter! It is true that the journey is
rather expensive. But all the same, can't one risk these
expenses and recoup oneself by means of one's work? In winter,
in the North, work is so difficult! Here too perhaps - I have
hardly had any experience of it yet, and so I must wait and
see; but it is a damned useful thing to see the South - where
so much more of life is spent in the open air - in order to
understand the Japanese better.
And then a certain quality of loftiness and nobility which can
be found in some of the spots here will be very profitable to
The sun in the “Red Sunset” should be imagined
higher up, outside the picture, let's say on a level with the
frame. In this way, an hour or an hour and a half before
sunset, the things on earth still keep their colour. Later on
the blue and violet make them look blacker, as soon as the sun
sends its rays more horizontally. Thanks again for your
package, which has warmed my heart greatly, and a cordial
handshake in thought. Write me the date of your departure, so
that I shall know when you will be in Paris; your Paris address
is still 5 Avenue Beaulieu, isn't it?
Sincerely yours, Vincent
1. Ernest Chamaillard.
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Emile Bernard. Written 7 October 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number B19.
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