van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Emile Bernard
Arles, 6-11 June 1888
Relevant paintings:

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

My dear comrade Bernard,

More and more it seems to me that the pictures which must be made so that painting should be wholly itself, and should raise itself to a height equivalent to the serene summits which the Greek sculptors, the German musicians, the writers of French novels reached, are beyond the power of an isolated individual; so they will probably be created by groups of men combining to execute an idea held in common.

One may have a superb orchestration of colours and lack ideas. Another one is cram-full of new concepts, tragically sad or charming, but does not know how to express them in a sufficiently sonorous manner because of the timidity of a limited palette. All the more reason to regret the lack of corporative spirit among the artists, who criticize and persecute each other, fortunately without succeeding in annihilating each other.

You will say that this whole line of reasoning is banal - so be it! However, the thing itself - the existence of a renaissance - this fact is certainly no banality.

A technical question. Just give me your opinion on it in your next letter.

[See illustration of page with sketches.]

Furthermore, imagine in this so naïve landscape, which is reasonable, a cottage whitewashed all over (the roof too) standing in an orange field - certainly orange, for the Midi sky and the blue Mediterranean provoke an orange tint that gets more intense just as the scale of blues gets more vigorous tones. The black note of the door, the windows and the little cross on the ridge of the roof produce a simultaneous contrast of black and white just as pleasing to the eye as that of blue and orange.

To take a more amusing motif: let's imagine a woman in a black and white checked dress in the same primitive landscape with a blue sky and an orange soil - that would be a rather funny sight, I imagine. In Arles they often do wear black and white checks.

Suffice it to say that black and white are also colours, for in many cases they can be considered as colours, for their simultaneous contrast is as striking as that of green and red, for example.

At last I have seen the Mediterranean, which you will probably cross sooner than I shall.

I spent a week at Saintes-Maries, and to get there I drove in a diligence across the Camargue with its vineyards, moors and flat fields like Holland. There, at Saintes-Maries, were girls who reminded one of Cimabue and Giotto - thin, straight, somewhat sad and mystic. On the perfectly flat, sandy beach little green, red, blue boats, so pretty in shape and colour that they made one think of flowers. A single man is their whole crew, for these boats hardly venture on the high seas. They are off when there is no wind, and make for the shore when there is too much of it.

Gauguin, it seems, is still sick.

I am very eager to know what you have been working at lately - I myself am still doing nothing but landscapes - enclosed a sketch. I should also very much like to see Africa, but I hardly make any definite plans for the future, it will all depend on circumstances.

Oh well, you will tell me that what I write to you are only banalities.

A handshake in thought,

Sincerely yours, Vincent

[The following sketches were enclosed with letter.]

Boats on the beach at Stes.-Maries.

Beach at Stes.-Maries.

Still life: Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit.

Cottages at Stes.-Maries

At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Emile Bernard. Written 6-11 June 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number B06.

This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.
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