My dear friend Bernard,
My brother wrote me the other day that you were going to see
my pictures. So I know you are back, and I am very pleased that
you should have thought of going to see what I have done.
On my part I am extremely eager to know what you have
brought back from Pont-Aven.
I am hardly in the right mind for writing a letter, but I
feel an aching void because I am no longer informed at all of
what Gauguin, you and others are doing.
But I must necessarily be patient.
I have another dozen studies here which will probably be
more to your liking than this summer's, which my brother will
have shown you.
Among these studies there is an “Entrance to a
Quarry” pale lilac rocks in reddish fields, as in certain
Japanese drawings. In the design and in the
division of the colour into large planes there is no little
similarity to what you are doing at Pont-Aven.
For instance, there is also a
size 30 canvas with ploughed fields, broken lilac, and a
background of mountains rising to the very height of the
picture; so nothing but rough fields and rocks, with a thistle
and dried grass in a corner, and a little fellow, violet and
This will prove to you, I hope, that I have not got soft
My God! it is a very bad sort of country here; everything in
it is difficult to do with regard to disentangling its inner
character and avoiding making it a vaguely apprehended thing
instead of the true soil of Provence. Now in order to get this
right, one must toil hard, I tell you, and then of course it
becomes somewhat abstract; for the great thing is to give the
sun and the blue sky their full force and brilliance, and the
scorched - and often melancholy - fields their delicate aroma
The olive trees here, old man, would be the very thing for
you. I haven't had much of a chance to get them right this
year, but I intend to return to the charge; they are silver
against a soil of orange and violet hues, under the large white
sun. Good Lord, I have seen things by certain painters, and by
myself too, which did not do justice to the subject at all. In
the first place there is something of Corot in that silvery
grey, and this especially no one has done yet, whereas several
painters have got their apple trees, for instance, and their
For the same reason there are relatively few pictures
representing vineyards, which nevertheless have such an
So there is still plenty for me to work on here.
You know, there is something I am very sorry not to have
seen at the Exhibition; it is a series of dwellings of all the
peoples. I think either Garnier or Violet le Duc organized it.
Now look here, could you, since you have seen it, give me an
idea and especially a coloured sketch of the primitive Egyptian
house. I think it is very simple, a plain cube on a terrace -
but I should like to know its colouration too.
I read in an article that it was blue, red and yellow. Did
you pay attention to it? Please be sure to give me the
information. You must not confuse it with Persian or Moroccan
dwellings; there are said to be some that are nearly the same,
but not the real thing.
As for myself, however, the most admirable thing I know in
the domain of architecture is a rural cottage with a
moss-covered thatched roof and a blackened chimney. So I am
very hard to please.
I saw a sketch of ancient Mexican dwellings in one of the
illustrated papers; they too seem to be primitive and very
beautiful. Ah, if only one knew the things of those times, and
if only one could paint the people of those times, who lived in
the midst of them, it would be as beautiful as the work of
Millet; I don't say in the matter of colour, but with regard to
character, as something significant, something one has a firm
Now what about your military service - are you going?
I hope you will go see my canvases again, when I send my
autumn studies in November; and if possible let me know what
you have brought back from Brittany, for I attach great value
to knowing which of your things you think best yourself. So I
shall write again soon.
I am working on a large canvas of a “Ravine”; it
is quite the same motif as your study with a yellow tree, which
I still have: two bases of extremely solid rocks, between which
there flows a rivulet; a third mountain blocking the ravine.
Such subjects certainly have a fine melancholy, but then it
is fun to work in rather wild places, where one has to dig
one's easel in between the stones lest the wind should blow the
whole caboodle over.
Sincerely yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Emile Bernard. Written c. 8 October 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number B20.
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