My dear old Bernard,
This time you deserve bigger compliments for the little croquis of the two Breton women in your letter than for the other 6, since the little croquis has a great style.1 I’m behind myself as far as croquis go, being so totally absorbed these recent superb days with square no. 30 canvases, which wear me out considerably and I intend to use to decorate the house.2
You will have received my letter explaining the serious reasons for advising you to try to persuade your father to give you a little more freedom as far as your purse is concerned, should he pay your fare to Arles.3 I believe that you would repay him through your work. And that way you would stay longer with Gauguin, and leaving to do your service, you would leave for a good artistic campaign. If your father had a son who was a prospector and discoverer of raw gold among the pebbles and on the pavement, your father would certainly not look down on that talent. Now in my opinion, you have absolutely the equivalent of that.
Your father, while he might regret that it wasn’t shiny new gold, minted in louis,4 would set out to make a collection of your finds, and to sell them only for a reasonable price. Let him do the same thing for your paintings and drawings, which are as rare and as valuable on the market as rare stones or rare metal. That’s absolutely true — a painting is as difficult to make as a large or small diamond is to find.5
Now while everyone acknowledges the value of a gold louis or a real pearl, unfortunately those who set store by paintings and believe in them are few and far between. But they do exist. And in any case, there’s nothing better to do than to wait without getting impatient, even if one has to wait for a long time. On your side, think a little about what I’m telling you about the cost of living here,6 and should you have a strong wish to come to Arles with Gauguin and me,  1v:2 be sure to tell your father that with a little more money you would make much better paintings.
The idea of making a kind of freemasonry of painters doesn’t please me hugely;7 I deeply despise rules, institutions, &c., in short, I’m looking for something other than dogmas, which, very far from settling things, only cause endless disputes.
It’s a sign of decadence. Now, as a union of painters exists so far only in the form of a vague but very broad sketch, then let’s calmly allow what must happen to happen.
It will be better if it crystallizes naturally; the more one talks about it, the less it comes about. If you wish to support it, you have only to continue with Gauguin and me. It’s in progress, let’s not talk any more; if it must come it will come about without big negotiations but through calm and well-thought-out actions.
As regards the exchanges, it’s precisely because I’ve often had occasion to hear mention in your letters of Laval, Moret and the other young man,8 that I have a great desire to get to know them.9 But — I don’t have 5 dry studies — will have to add at least two slightly more serious attempts at paintings, a portrait of myself and a landscape angry with a nasty mistral.10
Then I would have a study of a little garden of multicoloured flowers.11
A study of grey and dusty thistles,12  1v:3 and lastly a still life of old peasants’ shoes.13 And a small landscape of nothing at all, in which there’s nothing but a bit of an expanse.14 Now, if these studies aren’t found pleasing, and if one or other preferred not to take part, all you have to do is keep those that are wanted and return with the exchanges those that aren’t wanted. We’re in no hurry, and in exchanges it’s better on both sides to try to give something good.
If it’s dry enough to be rolled up after being exposed to the sun tomorrow, I’ll add a landscape of men unloading sand,15 another project and attempt at a painting, in which there’s a more fully developed sense of purpose.
I can’t send a repetition of the night café yet because it hasn’t even been started, but I’m very willing to do it for you,16 but once again, it’s better on both sides to try to exchange good things than to do them too hastily.
The artistic gentleman who was in your letter, who resembles me — is that me or somebody else?17
He certainly looks like me as far as the face is concerned, but in the first place I’m always smoking a pipe, and then, having vertigo, I have an unspeakable horror of sitting like that on sheer crags beside the sea. So if that’s meant to be my portrait, I protest against the above-mentioned improbabilities.  1r:4
The decoration of the house absorbs me terribly. I dare to believe that it would be quite to your liking, although it’s very different from what you do, of course. But just as you spoke to me in the past about paintings that would depict, one flowers, the other trees, the other fields.18
Well, I have the Poet’s garden (2 canvases) (among the croquis you have the first idea for it, after a smaller painted study that’s already at my brother’s).19
Then The starry night,20 then The vineyard,21 then The furrows,22 then the view of the house could be called The street,23 so unintentionally there’s a certain sequence.
Well, I’ll be very very curious to see studies of Pont-Aven. But for yourself, give me something fairly worked up. It will work out, anyway, because I like your talent so much that I’d be very pleased to make a small collection of your works, bit by bit.
For a long time I’ve been touched by the fact that Japanese artists very often made exchanges among themselves.24 It clearly proves that they liked one another and stuck together, and that there was a certain harmony among them and that they did indeed live a kind of brotherly life, in a natural way and not in the midst of intrigues. The more we resemble them in that respect, the better it will be for us. It seems, too, that those Japanese earned very little money and lived like simple labourers.25 I have the reproduction (Bing publication) of a Japanese drawing: A single blade of grass.26 What an example of awareness — you’ll see it one day. I shake your hand firmly.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 700 | CL: B18
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, Wednesday, 3 October 1888

1. Bernard’s last letter had evidently contained a small sketch of two Breton women. It is not known today and was probably not on a separate sheet but was an integral part of the letter, which has not survived. By ‘the other 6’ Van Gogh meant the previous batch of drawings from Bernard; see letter 687, n. 14.
2. Vincent mentioned ten no. 30 canvases to Theo. Seven of them are referred to later in the letter (see nn. 16 and 19-23 below); the other three are Path in the public garden (F 470 / JH 1582 [2716]), Café terrace at night (F 467 / JH 1580 [2714]) and possibly Path in the public garden (F 471 / JH 1613 [2737]). See letter 694, n. 14.
[2716] [2714] [2737]
3. Van Gogh wrote this in his previous letter to Bernard: see letter 690.
4. A louis was a coin worth 20 francs.
5. This simile had a particular appeal for Van Gogh. He also used it in letters 651 and 691.
6. Van Gogh had written about the cost of living in Arles in his two previous letters to Bernard (see letters 684 and 690).
7. This idea of a freemasonry of painters must have been suggested by Bernard in his latest letter.
8. See letter 698, n. 1, for this exchange with Bernard, Laval, Moret and Chamaillard.
9. The young man in question was Ernest Ponthier de Chamaillard. Cf. letter 694, n. 2.
10. These were Self-portrait (F 476 / JH 1581 [2715]) and an unknown landscape with a sunset (see letter 698, n. 15).
11. Garden with flowers (F 578 / JH 1538 [2686]).
12. Thistles (F 447 / JH 1550 [2696]). This work once belonged to Henry Moret, so it must have been in the batch. See Bernard 1994, vol. 1, p. 307.
14. The cursory description makes it impossible to identify this work. According to Roskill it could have been either Field with farmhouses (F 576 / JH 1423) or Landscape with the edge of a road (F 567 / JH 1419 [2604]), but their provenance (Jo van Gogh-Bonger) rules out their having been sent to Bernard. See Roskill 1971, p. 161 (n. 105) and Account book 2002, pp. 178-179.
15. Quay with sand barges (F 449 / JH 1558 [2700]). Van Gogh dedicated this painting to Bernard (see letter 698, n. 11).
16. The night café (F 463 / JH 1575 [2711]). This paragraph seems to imply that Bernard had asked for a repetition of this work, which Van Gogh had written about in letter 684. No repetition was ever made.
17. Bernard added the following note at this point in the Vollard edition: ‘Allusion to a caricature by Gauguin that showed Vincent sitting on the tip of a rock, drawing the sun.’ (Allusion à une caricature de Gauguin qui représentait Vincent assis sur la pointe d’un rocher, en train de dessiner le soleil) (Lettres à Bernard 1911, p. 126).
18. It is not clear which three paintings by Bernard he means. There may be a connection with the sketches for the decoration that Bernard had sent Van Gogh (see letter 596, n. 1), or with the landscape studies he had worked on in the spring of 1888. On 16 May he wrote telling his mother about a ‘very big’ study ‘showing Saint-Briac in bloom’ (très grande [étude] qui représente Saint-Briac en fleurs). See Harscoët-Maire 1997, p. 168. Bernard said later that he had given Van Gogh the idea of making decorative ensembles: ‘I explained to him my idea for executing studies in series: the sea, the flowers, the trees, the fields. He agreed with me, and got down to doing just that.’ (Je lui exposai mon idée d’exécuter des études par séries: la mer, les fleurs, les arbres, les champs. Il m’approuva et se mit à en faire autant.) See Lettres de Paul Gauguin à Emile Bernard 1888-1891. Ed. Pierre Cailler. Geneva 1954, pp. 16-17.
19. The two canvases of ‘the poet’s garden’ are The public garden (‘The poet’s garden’) (F 468 / JH 1578 [2713]) and a now unknown painting of the park (cf. the drawing The public garden (‘The poet’s garden’) (F 1465 / JH 1583) and the letter sketch in letter 693 for the composition). Van Gogh regarded these two paintings as companion pieces.
Bernard owned the drawing Newly mown lawn with a weeping tree (F 1450 / JH 1509 [2667]), which shows the same corner of the park; see letter 641, n. 1. The painting on which the drawing is based, Newly mown lawn with a weeping tree (F 428 / JH 1499 [0]), had been with Theo since mid-August (see letter 673); it measures 60 x 73.5 cm.
[2713] [2667] [0]
20. Starry night over the Rhône (F 474 / JH 1592 [2723]).
21. The green vineyard (F 475 / JH 1595 [2726]).
22. Ploughed fields (‘The furrows’) (F 574 / JH 1586 [2719]).
23. The Yellow House (‘The street’) (F 464 / JH 1589 [2721]).
24. See letter 695, n. 16, for exchanges between Japanese artists.
25. Kōdera says that here Van Gogh was projecting his own ideal on to Japanese artists, who generally did not live harmoniously together and were not simple labourers either. See cat. Amsterdam 1991, p. 38.
26. See letter 686, n. 11, for this Study of grass [2251] in Le Japon Artistique.