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622 To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Thursday, 7 June 1888.

metadata
No. 622 (Brieven 1990 625, Complete Letters B6)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, on or about Thursday, 7 June 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
New York, Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum

Date
Van Gogh wrote this letter after his return from Saintes-Maries around 4 June (letter 620). Since he says that he is working up the drawings that he had made there, it must have been written not long afterwards. It also has to be dated a few days before Tuesday, 12 June (letter 623) because by then he was working on his harvest landscapes, which he does not mention here (he does refer to them in the next letter to Bernard (628)). We have consequently dated the present letter on or about Thursday, 7 June 1888. This is also borne out by the remark: ‘it appears that Gauguin is still ill’ (ll. 118-119); evidently Van Gogh had not yet received the letter reporting the latest state of affairs. He did get this expected letter on ‘Saturday’ – this must have been Saturday, 9 June 1888, when he replied to it (see letter 623, l. 112).

Arrangement
The sketches sent with this letter included Still life with coffee pot(F - / JH 1428), which was previously placed with letter 612.

Ongoing topics
Gauguin’s illness (581)
Visit to Saintes-Maries (617)
Bernard’s military service (575)

Sketches

  1. Cottage in Saintes-Maries (F - / JH -), letter sketch. Notations: in the sky: ‘bleu’ (blue), twice; on the ground: ‘orange’ and ‘orangé’ (orange).
  2. Woman with a parasol (F - / JH ), letter sketch. Notations: in the sky: ‘bleu’; on the ground: ‘orangé’.
  3. Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries (F - / JH 1463), enclosed sketch. Notations: in the sky: ‘Citron vert pale’ (pale lemon green); on the roof of the house in the left foreground: ‘bleu & orangé’ (blue and orange); on the lower edge of the house: ‘cobalt tres clair’ (very light cobalt); on the side of the second house: ‘chrome 2’; on the chimney and the lower edge of the house: ‘blanc’ (white), twice; on the roof: ‘violet’; on the side of the third house: ‘chrome 2’; on the house in the left background: ‘émeraude’ (emerald); on the front of the house second from left in the background: ‘blanc’; on the roof of that house: ‘violet’; on the third house in the background: ‘orangé’ and ‘chrome 3’; on the surface of the street: ‘rose’ (pink); below the poppies beside the street: ‘coquelicots rouge’ (red poppies); on the vegetation on the right: ‘Vert’ (green).
  4. Fishing boats at sea (F - / JH 1464), enclosed sketch; beside it two landscapes, here numbered 5 and 6 Notations: on the sail of the first boat: ‘jaune’ (yellow); on the sail of the second boat: ‘blanc’ (white); on the hull of the first boat: ‘vert’ (green); on the hull of the second boat: ‘rouge’ (red); in the water in front of these boats: ‘bleu’ (blue); a little lower down: ‘vert & blanc’; on the shoreline: ‘blanc’; on the beach: ‘vert & blanc rosé’ (green and pinkish white); in the water in front of the central boats: ‘violet vert’ (violet green).
  5. Landscape with the edge of a road (F - / JH 1464), enclosed sketch. Notations: in the sky: ‘Bleu’ (blue); beside the leaves of the tree: ‘vert’ (green); beside the house in the background: ‘orangé & jaune’ (orange and yellow); below that: ‘ciel bleu’ (blue sky); on the ground in front of the house: ‘Vert’ (green); in the foreground: ‘jaune & bleu’ (yellow and blue).
  6. Farmhouse in a wheatfield (F - / JH 1464), enclosed sketch. Notations: ‘maison rose’ (pink house); below that ‘ciel bleu’ (blue sky); on the right: ‘champ de blé / vert’ (field of wheat / green); below that: ‘route bordé / d’arbres / aux troncs violets’ (road lined / with trees / with violet trunks).
  7. Fishing boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries (F - / JH 1461), enclosed sketch.
  8. Still life with coffee pot (F - / JH 1428), enclosed sketch. Notations: in the background: ‘Citron vert pale’ (pale lemon green); on the orange in the left foreground: ‘mine orange’ (orange lead); below the cup and saucer on the left: ‘tasse bleu de roi / or & blanc’ (royal blue/gold and white cup); on the orange in the left background: ‘chrome 3’; above the milk jug on the left: ‘carrelé / bleu & cobalt’ (blue and cobalt check); on the tablecloth, centre foreground: ‘bleu myosotys’ (forget-me-not blue); on the foremost of the three lemons: ‘chrome / N° 1’; on the two other lemons: the numeral ‘1’ (for ‘chrome 1’); beside the coffee pot in the middle: ‘émaillé / bleu’ (blue enamel); on the edge of the saucer on the right: ‘chrome 2’; beside the cup on the right: ‘tasse blanche / dessins bleu / orangé’; (white cup / patterns blue / orange); beside the jug on the right: ‘pot en majolique / bleu à flammes / brunes à fleurs / roses & vertes’ (blue majolica jug / with wavy / brown decoration with / pink and green flowers).

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher copain Bernard,
il me semble toujours de plus en plus que les tableaux qu’il faudrait faire, les tableaux nécessaires, indispensables pour que la peinture actuelle soit entièrement elle et monte à une hauteure équivalente aux cimes sereines qu’atteignirent les sculpteurs grecs, les musiciens allemands,1 les ecrivains de romans2 français, dépassent la puissance d’un individu isolé, seront donc créées probablement par des groupes d’hommes se combinant pour executer une idée commune.–
Tel a une orchestration superbe des couleurs3 et manque d’idées.
Tel surabonde en conceptions neuves navrantes ou charmantes mais ne sait les exprimer d’une façon suffisamment sonore, donné la timidite d’une palette bornée.
Grande raison pour regretter le manque d’esprit de corps dans les artistes, lesquels se critiquent, se persécutent, tout en ne parvenant heureusement point à s’annuler.
Tu diras que tout ce raisonnement est une banalité.– Que soit – la chôse elle-même pourtant – l’existence d’une Renaissance – ce fait-là certes n’en est pas une, de banalites.
 1v:2
Une question technique. Dis moi un peu ton opinion dans prochaine lettre.
le noir et le blanc tel que le marchand nous les vend tout simplement, je vais le mettre sur ma palette hardiment et les employer tels quels.
lorsque – et remarquez que je parle de la simplification de la couleur à la Japonaise – lorsque je vois dans un parc vert aux sentiers roses un monsieur qui est habillé de noir et juge de paix de son métier (le juif arabe dans Tartarin de Daudet appelle cet honorable fonctionnaire zouge de paix),4 lequel lit l’Intransigeant.
Au dessus de lui & du parc un ciel d’un simple cobalt.
Alors pourquoi pas peindre le dit zouge de paix avec du simple noir d’os et l’Intransigeant avec du simple blanc tout cru.
Car le japonais fait abstraction du reflet posant ses teintes plates l’une à côté de l’autre – des traits caractéristiques arrêtant naivement des mouvements ou des formes.5
Dans une autre catégorie d’idées, lorsqu’on compose un motif de couleur exprimant par exemple un ciel jaune du soir.
 1v:3
le blanc cru et dur d’un mur blanc contre le ciel à la rigueur s’exprime, et d’une façon etrange, par le blanc cru et ce même blanc rabattu par un ton neutre. Car le ciel même le colore d’un ton lilas fin.

[sketch A]
Encore dans ce paysage si naif, lequel est censé nous représenter une cabane blanchie entièrment à la chaux (le toit aussi), posée sur un terrain orangé certes, car le ciel du midi et la mediterranée
bleue provoquent un orangé d’autant plus intense que la gamme des bleus est plus montée de ton,
la note noire de la porte, des vitres, de la petite croix sur la faîte font qu’il y ait un contraste simultané6 de blanc & noir

[sketch B]
agréable à l’oeil tout autant que celui du bleu avec l’orange.–7
Pour prendre un motif plus amusant supposons une femme habillée d’une robe carrelée noir & blanc dans le même paysage primitif d’un ciel bleu & d’une terre orangée – ce serait assez drôle à voir je m’imagine. Justement à Arles on porte souvent du carrelé blanc & noir.8
Suffit que le noir et le blanc sont des couleurs aussi, plutôt dans bien des cas peuvent être considerés comme couleurs car leur contraste simultané est aussi piquant que celui du vert & du rouge par exemple.
 1r:4
Les Japonais s’en servent d’ailleurs – ils expriment merveilleusement bien le teint mat & pâle d’une jeune fille et le contraste piquant de la chevelure noire avec du papier blanc et 4 traits de plume. Sans compter leurs buissons d’epines noires étoilés de mille fleurs blanches.
J’ai enfin vu la Méditerranée, laquelle il est probable tu franchiras avant moi. ai passé une semaine à Saintes Maries et pour y arriver ai traversé en diligence la Camargue avec des vignes, des landes, des terrains plats comme la Hollande. Là, à Stes Maries, il y avait des filles qui faisaient penser à Cimabue et à Giotto, minces, droites, un peu tristes & mystiques.9 Sur la plage toute plate, sablonneuse, de petits bateaux verts, rouges, bleus tellement jolis comme forme & couleur qu’on pensait à des fleurs, un seul homme les monte, ces barques-là ne vont guère sur la haute mer – ils fichent le camp lorsqu’il n’y a pas de vent et reviennent à terre s’il en fait un peu trop. Il parait que Gauguin est toujours encore malade. Je suis bien curieux de savoir ce que tu as fait dernierement, moi je fais toujours encore du paysage, ci inclus croquis.10 J’aurais bien envie de voir l’Afrique aussi mais je ne fais guère de plan fixe pour l’avenir, cela dépendra des circonstances. Ce que je voulais savoir c’est l’effet d’un bleu plus intense dans le ciel. Fromentin et Gerome11 voient le terrain du midi incolore et un tas de gens le voiaient tel. Mon dieu oui si vous prenez du sable sec dans votre main & si vous allez regarder cela de près. l’eau aussi, l’air aussi, considerée de cette façon, est incolore. Pas de bleu sans jaune et sans orangé et si vous faites le bleu faites donc le jaune & l’orangé aussi, n’est ce pas. Enfin tu vas me dire que je ne t’écris que des banalités. Poignée de main en pensée.

t. à t.
Vincent
 2r:5 [sketch C]  2v:6 [sketch D]
[sketch E]
[sketch F]  3r:7 [sketch G]  3v:8 [sketch H]
translation
 1r:1
My dear old Bernard,
More and more it seems to me that the paintings that ought to be made, the paintings that are necessary, indispensable for painting today to be fully itself and to rise to a level equivalent to the serene peaks achieved by the Greek sculptors, the German musicians,1 the French writers of novels,2 exceed the power of an isolated individual, and will therefore probably be created by groups of men combining to carry out a shared idea.
One has a superb orchestration of colours3 and lacks ideas.
The other overflows with new, harrowing or charming conceptions, but is unable to express them in a way that’s sufficiently sonorous, given the timidity of a limited palette.
Very good reason to regret the lack of an esprit de corps among artists, who criticize each other, persecute each other, while fortunately not succeeding in cancelling each other out.
You’ll say that this whole argument is a banality. So be it — but the thing itself — the existence of a Renaissance — that fact is certainly not a banality.  1v:2
A technical question. Do give me your opinion in next letter.
I’m going to put the black and the white boldly on my palette just the way the colourman sells them to us, and use them as they are.
When — and note that I’m talking about the simplification of colour in the Japanese manner — when I see in a green park with pink paths a gentleman who’s dressed in black, and a justice of the peace by profession (the Arab Jew in Daudet’s Tartarin calls this honourable official shustish of the beace),4 who’s reading L’Intransigeant.
Above him and the park a sky of a simple cobalt.
Then why not paint the said shustish of the beace with simple bone black and L’Intransigeant with simple, very harsh white?
Because the Japanese disregards reflection, placing his solid tints one beside the other — characteristic lines naively marking off movements or shapes.5
In another category of ideas, when you compose a colour motif expressing, for example, a yellow evening sky —  1v:3
The harsh, hard white of a white wall against the sky can be expressed, at a pinch and in a strange way, by harsh white and by that same white softened by a neutral tone. Because the sky itself colours it with a delicate lilac hue.

[sketch A]

Again, in this very naive landscape, which is meant to show us a hut, whitewashed overall (the roof, too), situated in an orange field, of course, because the sky in the south and the blue Mediterranean produce an orange that is all the more intense the higher in tint the range of blues —
The black note of the door, of the window panes, of the little cross on the rooftop, creates a simultaneous contrast6 of white and black

[sketch B]

just as pleasing to the eye as that of the blue with the orange.7
To take a more entertaining subject, let’s imagine a woman dressed in a black and white checked dress, in the same primitive landscape of a blue sky and an orange earth — that would be quite amusing to see, I imagine. In fact, in Arles they often do wear white and black checks.8
In short, black and white are colours too, or rather, in many cases may be considered colours, since their simultaneous contrast is as sharp as that of green and red, for example.  1r:4
The Japanese use it too, by the way — they express a young girl’s matt and pale complexion, and its sharp contrast with her black hair wonderfully well with white paper and 4 strokes of the pen. Not to mention their black thorn-bushes, studded with a thousand white flowers.
I’ve finally seen the Mediterranean, which you’ll probably cross before me. Spent a week in Saintes-Maries, and to get there crossed the Camargue in a diligence, with vineyards, heaths, fields as flat as Holland. There, at Saintes-Maries, there were girls who made one think of Cimabue and Giotto: slim, straight, a little sad and mystical.9 On the completely flat, sandy beach, little green, red, blue boats, so pretty in shape and colour that one thought of flowers; one man boards them, these boats hardly go on the high sea — they dash off when there’s no wind and come back to land if there’s a bit too much. It appears that Gauguin is still ill. I’m quite curious to know what you’ve done lately; I’m still doing landscapes, croquis enclosed.10 I’d very much like to see Africa too, but I hardly make any firm plans for the future, it will depend on circumstances. What I’d like to know is the effect of a more intense blue in the sky. Fromentin and Gérôme11 see the earth in the south as colourless, and a whole lot of people saw it that way. My God, yes, if you take dry sand in your hand and if you look at it closely. Water, too, air, too, considered this way, are colourless. No blue without yellow and without orange, and if you do blue, then do yellow and orange as well, surely. Ah well, you’ll tell me that I write you nothing but banalities. Handshake in thought.

Ever yours,
Vincent

 2r:5
[sketch C]

 2v:6
[sketch D]
[sketch E]
[sketch F]

 3r:7
[sketch G]

 3v:8
[sketch H]
notes
1. Van Gogh would have been thinking first and foremost of Richard Wagner; he was in the middle of reading a book about him. Probably Camille Benoit’s Richard Wagner, musiciens, poètes et philosophes (see letter 621, n. 7).
2. Van Gogh added ‘de romans’ (of novels) later.
3. Van Gogh had previously written of ‘symphonies of colour’, possibly deriving the notion from Charles Blanc. See letter 537, n. 7. His reading about Wagner may well also have influenced his choice of words: ‘what an artist – one like that in painting, now that would be something’ (quel artiste – un comme ca dans la peinture, voila ce qui serait chic) (letter 621).
4. See for this reference to Alphonse Daudet’s Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon: letter 609, n. 1.
5. This characterization of Japanese prints likewise applies to the Cloisonnism developed by Bernard and Anquetin. See letter 620, nn. 11 and 12.
6. See letter 536, n. 28, for the concept ‘contraste simultané’.
7. These descriptions tie in with the paintings Cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 419 / JH 1465 ) and Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 420 / JH 1462 ).
8. No obvious examples of the fabrics Van Gogh describes have been found. He may have been referring to the summer clothing worn on feast days – a dress of black cotton or satin worn beneath a skirt of violet lace. The underlying dark colour could be seen through the delicate open weave of the lace, creating the optical effect of a checked dress. With thanks to Dominique Séréna of the Museon Arlaten in Arles.
9. This passage prompted Bernard to write to his parents: ‘Vincent has written to me. He likes it in Arles, recently he has been in the Camargue where he saw the Mystique girls, which made him think of Cimabuë and Giotto. He is a lad with a very broad, but overly independent, artistic temperament, and a deeply scientific side to him, despite that I still hope to see him come back with some great stuff. He grasps things quickly and in short has a well-developed artistic side (which is so rare!).’ (Vincent m’écrit. Il se plaît beaucoup à Arles, il est allé ces derniers temps en Camargue où il a vu des filles Mystiques, qui l’ont fait penser à Cimabuë et Giotto. C’est un garçon d’un tempérament artistique très large, mais trop indépendant, d’un côté scientifique approfondi, malgré cela je ne désespère pas de le voir revenir avec de fort bonnes choses. Il a la compréhension facile et en somme a le côté artiste très développé (cela est si rare!).) See Harscoët-Maire 1997, p. 174.
10. These scratches of landscapes are the enclosed sketches Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries (F - / JH 1463), Fishing boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries (F - / JH 1461), Fishing boats at sea, Landscape with the edge of a road and Farmhouse in a wheatfield (all three F - / JH 1464). They are after the following paintings: Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 420 / JH 1462 ), Fishing boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries (F 413 / JH 1460 ), Fishing boats at sea (F 417 / JH 1453 ), Landscape with the edge of a road (F 567 / JH 1419 ) and Farmhouse in a wheatfield (F 408 / JH 1417 ). Van Gogh also sent the sketch Still life with coffee pot (F - / JH 1428) after the painting Still life with coffee pot (F 410 / JH 1426 ).
11. Fromentin had painted in Algeria; Gérôme in Turkey, Greece and Egypt.