My dear friend Bernard,
The other day my brother wrote to me that you1 were going to come to see my canvases; so I know that you’re back, and I’m very pleased that you thought of going to see what I’ve done.2
For my part, I’m extremely curious to know what you’ve brought back from Pont-Aven.3
I hardly have a head for writing, but I feel a great emptiness in no longer being at all up to date with what Gauguin, you and others are doing. But I really must have patience. I have another dozen studies here,4 which will probably be more to your taste than the ones from this summer that my brother will have shown you.
Among these studies there’s an entrance to a quarry, pale lilac rocks in reddish earth, as in certain Japanese drawings.5 In terms of design and the division of colour into large planes, it’s quite closely related to what you’re doing in Pont-Aven.
I had more control over myself in these latest studies, because my state of health had firmed up. So there’s also a no. 30 canvas with broken lilac ploughed fields and a background of mountains that go all the way up the canvas; so nothing but rough ground and rocks, with a thistle and dry grass in a corner, and a little violet and yellow man.6 That will prove, I hope, that I haven’t yet gone soft.
Dear God, this is a pretty awful little part of the world, everything’s hard to do here, to disentangle its intimate character, and so that it’s not something vaguely true, but the true soil of Provence. So to achieve that, you have to toil hard. And so it naturally becomes a little abstract. Because it will be a question of giving strength and brilliance to the sun and the blue sky, and to the scorched and often so melancholy fields their delicate scent of thyme. The olive trees down here, my good fellow, they’d suit your book; I haven’t been fortunate this year in making a success of them, but I’ll go back to it, that’s my intention. It’s silver against orangeish or purplish earth, under the great blue sky. Well now, I’ve seen some by certain painters, and by myself, which didn’t render the thing at all. Those silver greys are like Corot first of all, and that, above all, hasn’t been done yet — while several artists have been successful with apple trees, for example, and willows.  1v:2
So there are relatively few paintings of vineyards, which are nevertheless of such changing beauty. So there’s still plenty for me to fiddle around with here.
Look here, what I very much regret not having seen at the Exhibition is a series of houses of all the nations; I think it was Garnier or Viollet-le-Duc who organized it.7 Well, could you, who will have seen it, give me an idea, and especially a croquis with the colour of the primitive Egyptian house? It must be very simple, a square block, I believe, on a terrace — but I’d like to know the colouring too. I was reading in an article that it was blue, red and yellow.8
Did you pay attention to it? Please inform me without fail! And it mustn’t be confused with the Persian or the Moroccan; there must be some that are more or less it, but not it.
Anyway, for me the most wonderful thing that I know in terms of architecture is the cottage with a mossy thatched roof, with its blackened hearth. So I’m very fussy. I saw a croquis of ancient Mexican houses in an illustrated magazine; that, too, seemed primitive and really beautiful.9 Ah, if only one knew the things of those days, and if one could paint the people of those days who lived in them — it would be as beautiful as Millet. Anyway, what we do know that’s solid these days, then, is Millet; I’m not talking about colour — but as character, as something significant, as something in which one has solid faith.
Now, about your service; will you go?10 I hope you’ll go to see my canvases again when I send the studies of autumn, in November. And if possible let me know what you’ve brought back from Brittany, because I’d really like to know what you yourself believe to be your best things. So I’ll write again soon.
I’m working on a large canvas of a ravine; it’s a subject just like the study with a yellow tree that I still have from you,11 two bases of extremely solid rocks, between which a trickle of water flows, a third mountain that closes off the ravine.12 These motifs certainly have a beautiful melancholy, and it’s enjoyable to work in really wild sites where you have to bury your easel in the stones so that the wind doesn’t send everything flying to the ground.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 811 | CL: B20
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Saint-Rémy, on or about Tuesday, 8 October 1889

1. Remarkably, Van Gogh now occasionally addresses his ‘pal’ Bernard with ‘vous’, since in his previous letters he always used the familiar ‘tu’. See also letter 822, Additional details.
2. On 4 October Theo had reported that Bernard was coming to look at Vincent’s paintings (letter 807). Van Gogh’s mention, later in the letter, of ‘the ones from this summer’ must refer to the second consignment of paintings from Saint-Rémy, which contained eight works that he had painted in the summer.
Bernard had contacted Theo not only to see Vincent’s paintings, but also to ask for work. He wrote to Theo that he was urgently in need of money, and asked whether he could perhaps work at Boussod, Valadon & Cie at ‘retouching photo-engraving or some other procedure taking place’ (FR b827, October 1889).
3. Bernard had spent some time in Saint-Briac in the summer of 1889. In contrast to what Van Gogh evidently thought (l. 19), he had not been in Pont-Aven, where Gauguin was staying at the time. Bernard’s father thought that Gauguin had a bad influence on his son, and had forbidden all contact between them. See Gauguin lettres 1946, p. 162.
4. In addition to the three canvases that Van Gogh describes in this letter (see nn. 5, 6 and 12 below), the dozen recent studies included Mulberry tree (F 637 / JH 1796 [2847]), Poplars in the mountains (F 638 / JH 1797 [2848]), Trees in the garden of the asylum (F 642 / JH 1798 [2849]), Pine trees in the garden of the asylum (F 643 / JH 1799 [2850]) and The husband is at sea (after Demont-Breton) (F 644 / JH 1805 [2854]). See letters 809 and 810. Trees in the garden of the asylum (F 640 / JH 1800 [2851]) and Trees in the garden of the asylum (F 730 / JH 1841) were probably also included.
[2847] [2848] [2849] [2850] [2854] [2851]
5. Entrance to a quarry (F 635 / JH 1767 [2824]).
6. Ploughed field with a man carrying a bundle of straw (F 641 / JH 1795 [2846]).
7. For the dwellings in the section ‘Histoire de l’habitation’ at the World Exhibition, see letter 779, n. 9. The architect was Charles Garnier.
8. The illustrated magazines devoted a lot of space to the ‘Histoire de l’habitation’, so it is impossible to identify the article from which Van Gogh got his information about the Egyptian house.
9. This sketch of Mexican houses has not been traced; in any case, it did not appear in L’Illustration.
10. Regarding Bernard’s military service, see letter 575, n. 8.
11. Bernard’s Yellow tree fits this description and is accordingly often dated to 1888. However, it is dated to around 1892 on stylistic grounds in exhib. cat. Mannheim 1990, p. 136. If that is correct, the work referred to here is not known.
12. Ravine (F 662 / JH 1804 [2853]). The canvas measures 73 x 92 cm.