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At an auction at Drouot in Paris, the Vincent van Gogh Foundation acquired a singular letter written by Vincent van Gogh. The letter, which will be added to the Van Gogh Museum collection, was written in 1888 by two of the greatest artists of the 19th century: Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. The two artists take turns to give an account of their stay at the Yellow House in Arles to their artist friend Emile Bernard. During this intense period, Van Gogh and Gauguin lived together and worked tirelessly on their vision of modern art, as well as considering their place in its future. Their artistic dialogue at the time was ceaseless, and was sometimes continued at the brothel, as well as in this letter. This is the only letter that Van Gogh ever wrote together with another artist. The museum considers the letter to be the most significant document written by Van Gogh that was still in private hands. Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Van Gogh Museum: ‘We are delighted and very grateful that the Vincent van Gogh Foundation has made it possible to add such a remarkable letter as this to our collection, especially in these challenging times. The museum would not have been founded or exist today without the Vincent van Gogh Foundation. It is once again thanks to the foundation that we can add a significant new item to the museum’s collection. We always work closely with the foundation, and are thrilled that – thanks to this acquisition – this important letter can be included in our autumn exhibition focusing on Van Gogh’s letters’.

About the letter
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin wrote the letter (in the complete correspondence) in 1888, about a week after Gauguin went to live with Van Gogh at the Yellow House in the South of France, to work closely together as artistic partners. This was the first concrete step towards realising Van Gogh’s dream: to establish a utopian artists’ colony in Arles. Van Gogh was also keen for the artist Emile Bernard to travel south, and sent him detailed descriptions of everything that happened at the house. In this letter, the artists do not waste any words on pleasantries, instead getting straight to the point: the letter is a visionary explanation of their artistic collaboration and the future of modern art.

While the letter to Bernard is written by both artists, it is also a dialogue between Van Gogh and Gauguin themselves. They took turns to write about their first impressions of the collaboration, but knew that the other artist would also read the letter. The artist friends’ different tones of voice add a psychological depth to the letter, particularly considering the tragic end of the partnership when Vincent cut off his ear during a psychotic episode.

The letter also offers an intriguing insight into how the artists set to work: Van Gogh wrote: ‘Now something that will interest you — we’ve made some excursions in the brothels, and it’s likely that we’ll eventually go there often to work’.

Van Gogh selfportrait : nasjonalmuseet.no

Exhibition ‘Your loving Vincent’. Van Gogh’s Greatest Letters from 9 October 2020 
This autumn, the museum will explore how, alongside being a talented artist, Vincent van Gogh was also an avid letter writer. With at least 875 documents, the Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s letters (the complete correspondence of Vincent van Gogh contains some 930 letters and associated documents), but these letters are rarely put on public display due to their fragility. The exhibition ‘Your loving Vincent’. Van Gogh’s Greatest Letters offers visitors the opportunity to view 40 of Vincent van Gogh’s letters alongside iconic artworks such as The Bedroom (1888), The Sower (1888) and The Potato Eaters (1885).

Up until now, the museum collection did not contain any letters written by Van Gogh to Emile Bernard. This latest addition to the Van Gogh Museum collection will go on display for the first time during the upcoming exhibition.

The Turing Foundation also agreed to support the purchase, but it was possible to acquire the letter without requiring this contribution.

TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER:

My dear old Bernard,

We’ve done a great deal of work these past few days, and in the meantime I’ve read Zola’s Le rêve,1 so I’ve hardly had time to write.

Gauguin interests me greatly as a man — greatly. For a long time it has seemed to me that in our filthy job as painters we have the greatest need of people with the hands and stomach of a labourer. More natural tastes — more amorous and benevolent temperaments — than the decadent and exhausted Parisian man-about-town.

Now here, without the slightest doubt, we’re in the presence of an unspoiled creature with the instincts of a wild beast. With Gauguin, blood and sex have the edge over ambition. But enough of that, you’ve seen him close at hand longer than I have, just wanted to tell you first impressions in a few words.

Next, I don’t think it will astonish you greatly if I tell you that our discussions are tending to deal with the terrific subject of an association of certain painters.   Ought or may this association have a commercial character, yes or no? We haven’t reached any result yet, and haven’t so much as set foot on a new continent yet. Now I, who have a presentiment of a new world, who certainly believe in the possibility of a great renaissance of art. Who believe that this new art will have the tropics for its homeland.

It seems to me that we ourselves are serving only as intermediaries. And that it will only be a subsequent generation that will succeed in living in peace. Anyway, all that, our duties and our possibilities for action could become clearer to us only through actual experience.

I was a little surprised not yet to have received the studies that you promised in exchange for mine.

Now something that will interest you — we’ve made some excursions in the brothels, and it’s likely that we’ll eventually go there often to work. At the moment Gauguin has a canvas in progress of the same night café that I also painted, but with figures seen in the brothels. It promises to become a beautiful thing.

I’ve made two studies of falling leaves in an avenue of poplars, and a third study of the whole of this avenue, entirely yellow. I declare I don’t understand why I don’t do figure studies,6 while theoretically it’s sometimes so difficult for me to imagine the painting of the future as anything other than a new series of powerful portraitists, simple and comprehensible to the whole of the general public. Anyway, perhaps I’ll soon get down to doing brothels.

I’ll leave a page for Gauguin, who will probably also write to you, and I shake your hand firmly in thought.

Ever yours,

Vincent

Milliet the 2nd lieut. Zouaves has left for Africa, and would be very glad if you were to write to him one of these days.

[Continued by Paul Gauguin]

You will indeed do well to write him what your intentions are, so that he could take steps beforehand to prepare the way for you.

Mr Milliet, second lieutenant of Zouaves, Guelma, Africa.

Don’t listen to Vincent; as you know, he’s prone to admire and ditto to be indulgent. His idea about the future of a new generation in the tropics seems absolutely right to me as a painter, and I still intend going back there when I find the funds. A little bit of luck, who knows?

Vincent has done two studies of falling leaves in an avenue, which are in my room and which you would like very much. On very coarse, but very good sacking.

Send news of yourself and of all the pals.

Yours,

Paul Gauguin

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