My dear old Bernard.
The consignment Gauguin and you sent arrived at almost the same time as my studies went off.1 I was delighted, it really warmed my heart to see the two faces again. As for your portrait — you know — I like it very much — actually I like everything that you do, as you know — and perhaps nobody before me has liked what you do as much as I do.
I really urge you to study the portrait; make as many as possible and don’t give up – later we’ll have to attract the public through portraits — in my view that’s where the future lies. But let’s not get sidetracked into hypotheses now. Because it’s up to us next to thank you for the collection of rough sketches entitled At the brothel.2
Bravo! The woman washing herself and the one who says ‘I’m second to none when it comes to taking it out of a man’3 are the best, it seems to me. The others are grimacing too much — and most of all, are too vague, too little flesh and bone properly built up.
It doesn’t matter; it’s already something altogether new and interesting, and the rest, too – at the brothel — yes, that’s what needs to be done, and I assure you that I for one almost envy you this bloody good opportunity you have to go in there in uniform. Which those good little women adore. The poem at the end is really beautiful; stands up better than some of the figures.4 What you want, and what you say you believe, you say well and resonantly.
Write to me when you’re going to be in Paris — the thing is that I’ve already written you a thousand times that my night café isn’t a brothel, it’s a café where night prowlers cease to be night prowlers, since, slumped over tables, they spend the whole night there without prowling at all.5 Occasionally a whore brings her fellow there. But arriving there one night I came across a little group  1v:2 of a pimp and a whore who were making up after a quarrel. The woman was pretending to be indifferent and haughty, the man was tender. I started to paint it for you from memory — on a little no. 4 or no. 66 canvas — now if you’re leaving soon — I’ll send it to you in Paris; if you’re staying longer, say so, I’ll send it to you in Pont-Aven. I couldn’t add it to the consignment, it was nowhere near dry enough.
But I don’t want to sign this study, because I never work from memory — there will be colour in it, which will suit you, but to repeat, here I’m doing a study for you that I would prefer not to do. I mercilessly destroyed an important canvas — a Christ with the angel in Gethsemane — as well as another one depicting the poet with a starry sky — because the form hadn’t been studied from the model beforehand, necessary in such cases7 — despite the fact that the colour was right.
If the study I’m sending you in exchange doesn’t suit you, just look at it a little longer.
I had the devil’s own job to do it with an irritating mistral8 (like the study in red and green, as well).9 Well, despite the fact that it wasn’t painted as fluently as the old mill10 — it’s more delicate and more intimate. You see that all of this is perhaps not at all — Impressionist – well, too bad, I can’t do anything about it — but I do what I do with an abandonment to reality, without thinking about this or that. Goes without saying that if you preferred another study from the batch to the Men unloading sand, you could take it and remove my dedication11 if someone else wants it. But I believe that that one will suit you once you’ve looked at it a little longer.  1v:3
If Laval, Moret and the other one12 agree to make exchanges with me, perfect, but on my side I’d be especially satisfied if they wanted to do their portraits for me.
You know, Bernard, it always seems to me that if I want to do studies of brothels I’d need more money than I have; I’m not young or womanizer enough13 for them to pose for me for free. And I can’t work without a model. I’m not saying that I don’t flatly turn my back on reality to turn a study into a painting — by arranging the colour, by enlarging, by simplifying — but I have such a fear of separating myself from what’s possible and what’s right as far as form is concerned.
Later, after another ten years of studies, all right, but in very truth I have so much curiosity for what’s possible and what really exists that I have so little desire or courage to search for the ideal, in so far as it could result from my abstract studies.
Others may have more clarity of mind than I for abstract studies — and you might certainly be among them, as well as Gauguin and perhaps myself when I’m old.
But in the meantime I’m still living off the real world. I exaggerate, I sometimes make changes to the subject, but still I don’t invent the whole of the painting; on the contrary, I find it ready-made — but to be untangled — in the real world.  1r:4
But you’ll probably find these studies ugly, I don’t know. In any case, neither you nor anyone else should do an exchange grudgingly.
My brother writes that Anquetin’s back in Paris;14 I’m curious to know what he’s made. When you see him you’ll give him my warm regards.
The house will seem more lived-in now that I’ll see the portraits in it.
How happy I would be to see you there yourself this winter; it’s true that the trip costs rather a lot. Nevertheless, may one not risk those expenses by taking one’s revenge by working? Work’s so difficult in the north in winter. Here too, perhaps; I’ve hardly had the experience yet and it remains to be seen.
But it’s damned useful to see the south, where life is lived more in the open air, in order to understand the Japanese better.
And that touch of the haughty and the noble that certain places have down here will suit your book very well. In the Red sunset, the Sun should be imagined higher, outside the painting, let’s say just at the level of the frame.15 Because it so happens that an hour, an hour and a half before it sets, the things on the earth still keep their colours like that. Later the blue and the violet colour them darker, as soon as the sun sends out rays that are more horizontal. Thanks once again for what you sent me, it really warmed my heart.
And a good handshake in thought, and write to me the day of your departure so that I know when you’ll be in Paris; address in Paris still avenue de Beaulieu 5, isn’t it?16

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 702 | CL: B19
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, on or about Friday, 5 October 1888

Bernard had suggested an exchange with the group in Pont-Aven (see letter 694). Van Gogh sent seven studies (see letter 704). Two of them – Self-portrait (F 476 / JH 1581 [2715]) and Quay with sand barges (F 449 / JH 1558 [2700]) respectively – were intended for Bernard and Gauguin in return for their self-portraits. See letter 697, n. 4, and n. 11 below.
The other five works were intended for the new exchange with Bernard, Laval, Moret and Chamaillard. Two can be identified for certain: Thistles (F 447 / JH 1550 [2696]) and The old mill (F 550 / JH 1577 [2712]), which went to Moret and Chamaillard respectively. See letter 696, n. 12, and n. 10 below. Two of the other three studies probably went to Bernard, and one to Laval, both of whom sent work in exchange (see letter 719, nn. 2 and 3). There was certainly a ‘red sunset’ (l. 130); going by Van Gogh’s descriptions in letter 696 of the studies he was thinking of sending, the remaining two could have been chosen from the following three: ‘a study of a little garden of multicoloured flowers’, ‘a still life of old peasants’ shoes’ or ‘a small landscape of nothing at all, in which there’s nothing but a bit of an expanse’.
The ‘study of a little garden’ was Garden with flowers (F 578 / JH 1538 [2686]), which Van Gogh probably did send to Pont-Aven, given the provenance, which is not the family collection. See Roskill 1971, p. 159 (n. 89). Feilchenfeldt identified Garden with flowers (F 578 / JH 1538 [2686]) as the painting of a garden that Jo van Gogh-Bonger sold to Cassirer in March 1908, but that was another work: Daubigny’s garden (F 814 / JH 2107). See Feilchenfeldt 1988, p. 105, and Account book 2002, pp. 52, 148.
It is impossible to identify the last work that he sent. The ‘still life of old peasants’ shoes’ was Shoes (F 461 / JH 1569 [2707]), but since that was owned by Jo van Gogh-Bonger one can conclude that it was not sent. It is not clear what the ‘small landscape of nothing at all, in which there’s nothing but a bit of an expanse’ was (see letter 696, n. 13). Cf. also Dorn’s identification of the works in the batch in exhib. cat. Essen 1990, pp. 110-112.
[2262] [2261] [2715] [2700] [2696] [2712] [2686] [2686] [2707]
2. See letter 697, n. 10, for Bernard’s album of drawings titled At the brothel.
[2232] [2227] [2220]
5. Van Gogh had written to Bernard about his painting The night café (F 463 / JH 1575 [2711]) in a letter that is now lost and in letter 684.
6. This study is not known. On the basis of the size it could be Brothel scene (F 478 / JH 1599 [3006]), which is a no. 6 canvas (33 x 41 cm). However, Van Gogh says that he had set the study in the night café, where he had painted F 463 [2711], and the interior in F 478 [3006] does not resemble it. What’s more, the scene does not match the description Van Gogh gives here. It is therefore more likely that F 478 is the rough sketch that Van Gogh painted in November 1888 and mentioned in letter 718. Cf. also Dorn 1990, p. 249 (n. 52) and exhib. cat. Chicago 2001, pp. 195, 387 (n. 114).
[3006] [2711] [3006]
7. Vincent told Theo about his second, abortive attempt to paint a Christ without a model on 21 September (letter 685). At the beginning of September he had painted ‘a poet’ with a starry sky from a model: Eugène Boch (‘The poet’) (F 462 / JH 1574 [2710]).
8. Van Gogh wanted Bernard to have Quay with sand barges (F 449 / JH 1558 [2700]) (see n. 11 below). The latter’s attachment to it is clear from the fact that at first he did not want to sell it, nor the Self-portrait with a straw hat (F 526 / JH 1309 [2552]), because ‘I’m attached to it as much as a souvenir of friendship as I am as a painting’ (j’y tiens autant comme souvenir d’amitié que comme peinture). Letter from Bernard to his father, 28 January 1900 (Bernard lettres 2012, no. 249). In an act of homage to Van Gogh, Bernard portrayed himself in front of the painting in his Self-portrait of 1892 (private collection).
[2700] [2552]
9. The study in red and green would have been the ‘red sunset’ mentioned later in this letter (see n. 15 below). Van Gogh described it in letter 696 as ‘a landscape angry with a nasty mistral’ (un paysage en colère de mistral méchant).
10. The old mill (F 550 / JH 1577 [2712]), which once belonged to Chamaillard. See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, p. 503. We do not know whether Van Gogh received anything in return; there is an oil sketch by Chamaillard View of a harbour, in the estate, but it is dedicated ‘à l’ami Gauguin’ (to my friend Gauguin).
11. The painting Quay with sand barges (F 449 / JH 1558 [2700]) is signed and dedicated ‘Vincent / à Emile Bernard’ (most of the inscription has been removed).
13. Van Gogh originally wrote: ‘amoureux assez’ (amorous enough).
14. Anquetin had spent the summer in Etrépagny (Normandy).
15. This painting, a ‘study in red and green’ (n. 9 above), is not known; it is probably the work that Van Gogh described in letter 680 as ‘a landscape with factory, and an enormous sun in a red sky, above red roofs, in which nature seems to be in a rage, on a day of nasty mistral’, but the descriptions do not completely match. He may have worked on it again in the meantime, and painted out the sun.
16. 5 avenue de Beaulieu was the Bernards’ address in Asnières.