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643 To Emile Bernard. Arles, between Tuesday, 17 and Friday, 20 July 1888.

metadata
No. 643 (Brieven 1990 647, Complete Letters B11)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, between Tuesday, 17 and Friday, 20 July 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Paris, Institut Néerlandais (Fondation Custodia)

Date
Van Gogh has just sent Bernard the drawings he had promised in letter 641 of 15 July. The form of words he used in that letter to announce the new ‘half a dozen’ shows that he was planning to start on them almost right away (ll. 58-65), carrying on from the first set of six sent with letter 645/B10. This ties in with his usual practice, which was to work in ‘campaigns’ in which he set himself a single artistic task, so it is unlikely that he would needlessly have interrupted the continuity of the series of drawings for Bernard. That being said, it is not impossible that he waited a day before starting on the second series. This letter would therefore have been written a few days after that of 15 July, but it is difficult to say precisely how many days he would have needed to complete the nine drawings that were ultimately sent. With the proviso that the second date, in particular, is a little arbitrary, we date this letter between Tuesday, 17 and Friday, 20 July 1888.

Additional
Roskill thought that this letter might have been written after letter 649. He based this on the drawing Mousmé (F 1504 / JH 1520) in Bernard’s collection, which Roskill believed was sent with the second batch of drawings and was made after the almost finished painting F 431 (letter 650). See letter 641, n. 1.

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher copain Bernard,
je viens de t’envoyer aujourd’hui encore 9 croquis d’après des études peintes.1 De cette façon tu verras des motifs de cette nature qui inspire le père Cézanne. Car la Crau près d’Aix c’est à peu près la même chôse que les environs de Tarascon et la Crau d’ici.– La Camargue est encore plus simple car souvent il n’y a plus rien – plus rien que de la mauvaise terre avec des buissons de tamaris et des herbes dures qui sont à ces maigres pâturages ce que l’alfa est au désert.
Sachant combien tu aimes Cézanne j’ai pensé que ces croquis de Provence pourraient te faire plaisir. Non pas qu’il y ait des similitudes entre un dessin de moi & de Cézanne, oh cela pas plus qu’entre Monticelli et moi – mais moi aussi j’aime bien le pays qu’eux ils ont aimé tant et pour les mêmes raisons de couleur, de dessin logique.
Mon cher copain Bernard – par collaboration2 je n’ai pas voulu dire que selon moi deux ou plusieurs peintres devraient travailler aux memes tableaux.  1v:2 j’ai plutot voulu entendre par là des oeuvres divergentes mais qui se tiennent & se complètent. Voyons et les primitifs Italiens et les primitifs allemands et l’ecole Hollandaise et les Italiens proprement dits, enfin, voyons toute la peinture.
Involontairement les oeuvres forment “groupe”, “serie”. Or actuellement les impressionistes aussi forment groupe malgré toute leur désastreuses guerres civiles dans lesquelles de part & autre on cherche à se manger le nez avec un zèle digne d’une meilleure destination et but final.
Dans notre école du nord il y a Rembrandt – chef d’école – puisque son influence se fait sentir à quiconque l’approche. Nous voyons par exemple Paul Potter peindre les animaux en rut et passionnés3 dans des paysages également passionnés – sous l’orage, sous le soleil, dans la mélancolie de l’automne – alors qu’avant de connaitre Rembrandt ce même Paul Potter était assez sec et méticuleux.  1v:3 Voilà deux gens qui se tiennent comme des frères, le Rembrandt et le Potter. Et si probablement jamais Rembrandt n’a touché de sa brosse un tableau de Potter, n’empêche que et Potter et Ruysdael lui doivent ce qu’ils ont de meilleur, ce quelque chôse qui nous navre lorsque nous savons regarder un coin de l’antique Hollande à travers leur tempérament.–4
Il y a ensuite que les difficultés matérielles de la vie de peintre rendent la collaboration, l’union des peintres désirable – (tout autant qu’à l’epoque des corporations St Luc).5
En se sauvegardant la vie matérielle, en s’aimant comme des copains au lieu de se manger le nez, les peintres seraient plus heureux et en tous les cas moins ridicules, moins sots et moins coupables.
Toutefois je n’insiste point, sachant que la vie nous emporte si vite que nous n’avons pas le temps de discuter et d’agir à la fois. Raison  1r:4 pourquoi actuellement, l’union n’existant que très incomplètement, nous naviguons sur la haute mer dans nos petites & mechantes barques isolées sur les grandes vagues de notre temps.
Est ce une renaissance, est ce une décadence, nous ne saurions en être les juges étant trop près pour ne pas être induits en erreur par les déformations de la perspective. Les événements contemporains prenant pour notre oeil des proportions exagerées probablement en tant que quant à nos malheurs et nos mérites.
Je te serre bien la main et espère bientot avoir de tes nouvelles.

t. à t.
Vincent

translation
 1r:1
My dear old Bernard,
Today I’ve just sent you another 9 croquis after painted studies.1 In this way you’ll see some of the subjects from this nature that inspires père Cézanne. Because La Crau near Aix is roughly the same thing as the surroundings of Tarascon and La Crau here. The Camargue is even simpler, because often there’s nothing left — nothing but poor soil with tamarisk bushes and the coarse kinds of grass that are to these scanty pastures what halfa grass is to the desert.
Knowing how much you love Cézanne, I thought these croquis of Provence might please you. Not that there are similarities between a drawing by me and by Cézanne; oh, no, no more than between Monticelli and me — but I too love the region that they have loved so much, and for the same reasons of colour, of logical design.
My dear old Bernard — by collaboration2 I didn’t mean that in my view two or more painters should work on the same paintings.  1v:2 By that I meant, rather, works that are divergent but go together and complement each other. Let’s look at the Italian primitives and the German primitives and the Dutch school and the Italians proper, in a word, let’s look at painting in its entirety.
Works unintentionally form a ‘group’, a ‘series’. Now then, at present the Impressionists too form a group, in spite of all their disastrous civil wars, in which people on both sides try to get at each others’ throats with a zeal worthy of a better destination and final goal.
In our northern school there’s Rembrandt — head of the school — since his influence is felt by anyone who comes close to him. We see, for example, Paulus Potter painting animals rutting and impassioned in landscapes that are also impassioned — in a thunderstorm, in sunshine, in the melancholy of autumn — whereas before knowing Rembrandt this same Paulus Potter was rather dry and meticulous.3  1v:3 There you have two people who go together like brothers, Rembrandt and Potter. And while Rembrandt probably never touched a painting by Potter with his brush, that doesn’t alter the fact that both Potter and Ruisdael owe to him what’s best in them, that something that affects us deeply when we know how to look at a corner of old Holland through their temperament.4
And then there’s the fact that the material difficulties of the painter’s life make collaboration, union among painters, desirable — (just as much as in the days of the guilds of St Luke).5
By safeguarding their material life, by liking each other as pals instead of getting at each others’ throats, painters would be happier and anyway less ridiculous, less foolish and less guilty.
However, I don’t insist, knowing that life carries us along so fast that we don’t have the time to discuss and act simultaneously. That’s why  1r:4 at present, while the union exists only very incompletely, we’re sailing on the high seas in our small and wretched boats, isolated on the great waves of our time.
Is it renaissance, is it decline? We have no way of judging that, for we’re too close to avoid being led into error by distortions of perspective. For contemporary events, in our eyes, take on proportions that are probably exaggerated as regards our misfortunes and our merits.
I shake your hand firmly and hope to have news from you soon.

Ever yours,
Vincent
notes
1. Van Gogh had sent six drawings shortly before; see letter 641, n. 1. Most of the drawings in the two batches have been identified. In addition to the two listed in letter 641, Zouave (F 1482 / JH 1487 ) and Newly mown lawn with a weeping tree (F 1450 / JH 1509 ), Roskill has identified a further 11 drawings, but it is impossible to say which was in which batch. They are Fishing boats at sea (F 1430 / JH 1505 ), Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 1435 / JH 1506 ), Sower with setting sun (F 1442 / JH 1508 ), Canal with bridge and washerwomen (F 1444 / JH 1507 ), The harvest (F 1485 / JH 1540 ), Wheatfield (F 1481 / JH 1515 ), Wheatfield with sheaves (F 1488 / JH 1517 ), The Trinquetaille bridge (F 1507 / JH 1469 ), Rocks with a tree (F 1554 / JH 1518 ), Haystacks (F 1426 / JH 1514 ) and Arles seen from the wheatfields (F 1491 / JH 1516 ). See Roskill 1971, pp. 142-155.
The Langlois bridge with a lady with a parasol (F 1471 / JH 1420 ) and Wheatfield with setting sun (F 1514 / JH 1546 ) also belonged to Bernard, and were probably sent in one of the July batches. See exhib. cat. Amsterdam 2005, pp. 204, 250, 269-272.
Roskill also mentions Mousmé (F 1504 / JH 1520), which belonged to Bernard (cf. Roskill 1971, p. 174), but according to Pickvance – and we agree – Van Gogh did not make this drawing until later, after finishing the painting. That is also clear from letter 655 of about 5 August, in which Van Gogh reports ‘have not yet found time for figure sketches’.
On the basis of letter 665, Pickvance believed that Van Gogh sent Bernard Mousmé and Joseph Roulin (F 1723 / JH 1523) in the first half of August 1888. However, there is no evidence that Bernard ever had the latter drawing.
The illustrations of drawings published with the excerpts from the letters in Mercure de France and in the illustrations section in the Vollard edition of the letters to Bernard are of no assistance in fleshing out the above information.
2. Bernard must have responded to what Van Gogh had written two letters previously: ‘Ah, if several painters agreed to collaborate on great things’ (letter 633 of 27 June).
3. There are not many ‘rutting and impassioned’ animals to be found in Potter’s oeuvre, at most a bull mounting a cow or a quadruped urinating.
4. See for this reference to Zola’s Mes haines: letter 361, n. 9.
5. Luke the evangelist was the patron saint of painters. The guilds of St Luke, which began springing up in the fifteenth century, drew up statutes in consultation with the local authority that closely regulated the training and defined the rights and duties of painters. The guilds had to guarantee that apprentices received a proper training, and were obliged to look after the welfare of their members. See G.J. Hoogewerff, De geschiedenis van de St. Lucasgilden in Nederland. Amsterdam 1947.