Letters from Vincent

Never-before-exhibited correspondence from van Gogh to a protégé displays a thoughtful exacting side of the artist

Van Gogh painted this portrait of himself, dressed as a bourgeois, in Paris, where he stayed with his brother Theo and continued to hone his painting skills. Van Gogh's brief flirtation with the separate, dappled brushstrokes of pointillism is evident in this early effort, which is one of his best paintings from 1887. (Self-Portrait: Three Quarters to the Right)(Van Gogh Museum)
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If we do not know what to do, my dear old Bernard, then let's do the same as they.

Arles, c. August 21, 1888

I want to do figures, figures and more figures, it's stronger than me, this series of bipeds from the baby to Socrates and from the black-haired woman with white skin to the woman with yellow hair and a sunburnt face the color of brick.

Meanwhile, I mostly do other things....

Next, I'm attempting to do dusty thistles with a great swarm of butterflies swirling above them. Oh, the beautiful sun down here in high summer; it beats down on your head and I have no doubt at all that it drives you loony. Now being that way already, all I do is enjoy it.

I'm thinking of decorating my studio with half a dozen paintings of Sunflowers.

By now, Bernard had joined Gauguin in Pont-Aven in Britanny. As Gauguin's planned sojourn with van Gogh in Arles grew more likely, van Gogh backed away from his earlier invitations to Bernard, saying that he doubted he could accommodate more than one visitor. He also exchanged paintings with Bernard and Gauguin, expressing delight with the self-portraits they sent. But he again voiced his doubts about their practice of painting from the imagination rather than from direct observation of the real world.

Arles, c. October 5, 1888

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....

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 cases—despite the fact that the color was right....


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