54 rue Lepic.1

My dear old Bernard,
I feel the need to beg your pardon for leaving you so abruptly the other day.2 Which I therefore do herewith, without delay. I recommend that you read Tolstoy’s Les Légendes Russes,3 and I’ll also let you have the article on E. Delacroix that I’ve spoken to you about.4
I, for my part, did go to Guillaumin’s anyway, but in the evening, and I thought that perhaps you didn’t know his address, which is 13 quai d’Anjou.5 I believe that, as a man, Guillaumin has sounder ideas than the others, and that if we were all like him we’d produce more good things and would have less time and inclination to be at each other’s throats.
I persist in believing that — not because I gave you a piece of my mind but because it will become your own conviction — I persist in believing that you’ll realize that in the studios not only does one not learn very much as far as painting goes, but not much that’s good in terms of savoir vivre, either.  1v:2 And that one finds oneself obliged to learn to live, as one does to paint, without resorting to the old tricks and trompe l’oeil of schemers.
I don’t think your portrait of yourself will be your last, or your best6 — although all in all it’s frightfully you.
Look here — briefly, what I was trying to explain to you the other day comes down to this. In order to avoid generalities, let me take an example from life.
If you’ve fallen out with a painter, with Signac, for example, and if as a result you say: if Signac exhibits where I exhibit, I’ll withdraw my canvases — and if you run him down, then it seems to me that you’re not behaving as well as you could behave.7
Because it’s better to take a long look at it before judging so categorically, and to reflect, reflection making us see in ourselves, when there’s a falling out, as many faults on our own side as in our adversary, and in him as many justifications as we might desire for ourselves.  1v:3
If, therefore, you’ve already considered that Signac and the others who are doing pointillism often make very beautiful things with it —
Instead of running those things down, one should respect them and speak of them sympathetically, especially when there’s a falling out.
Otherwise one becomes a narrow sectarian oneself, and the equivalent of those who think nothing of others and believe themselves to be the only righteous ones.
This extends even to the academic painters, because take, for example, a painting by Fantin-Latour — and above all his entire oeuvre. Well then — there’s someone who hasn’t rebelled, and does that prevent him, that indefinable calm and righteousness that he has, from being one of the most independent characters in existence?
I also wanted to say a word to you about the military service that you’ll be required to do.8 You must absolutely see to that now.
Directly, in order to inform yourself properly about what one can do in such an event; first to retain the right to work, to be able to choose a garrison, &c. But indirectly, by taking care of your health. You mustn’t arrive there  1r:4 too anaemic or too agitated if you want to emerge from it stronger.
I don’t see it as a very great misfortune for you that you have to join the army, but as a very grave ordeal, from which, if you emerge from it, you’ll emerge a very great artist. Until then, do all you can to build yourself up, because you’ll need quite a bit of spirit. If you work hard that year, I believe that you may well succeed in having a fair stock of canvases, some of which we’ll try to sell for you, knowing that you’ll need pocket money to pay for models.
I’ll gladly do all I can to make a success of what was started in the dining-room,9 but I believe that the first condition for success is to put aside petty jealousies; it’s only unity that makes strength. It’s well worth sacrificing selfishness, the ‘each man for himself’, in the common interest.
I shake your hand firmly.



Br. 1990: 578 | CL: B1
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Paris, about December 1887

1. See for this address: letter 569.
2. It transpires further on in the letter that Van Gogh and Bernard had had a difference of opinion about the usefulness of a studio training for a painter (Van Gogh felt that there was little an artist could learn in those surroundings), and about Bernard’s attitude towards the Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac. Bernard did not want to exhibit together with Signac. Van Gogh, however, was concerned with a more common interest.
4. This was probably Théophile Silvestre’s Eugène Delacroix. Documents nouveaux (1864), which Van Gogh also refers to as an article elsewhere. We know that on one occasion he lent it to Bernard (see letter 735).
5. That was indeed Armand Guillaumin’s address. It had previously been the studio of the painter Charles-François Daubigny.
6. It is not known which of Bernard’s self-portraits he is referring to.
7. In the course of 1887 Bernard and Anquetin had demonstratively distanced themselves from the Pointillism of Seurat and Signac. They developed a ‘synthetizing’ style that became known as Cloisonnism and was heavily influenced by Japanese printmaking. Line and contour governed their work, and as regards colour they sought the solution in simplified, large areas instead of small dots. Cf. exhib. cat. Toronto 1981 and letter 620, nn. 11 and 12.
Whereas Bernard rejected the Neo-Impressionists, Van Gogh wanted to involve them with the group of artists who had exhibited together in Restaurant du Chalet: ‘This group, to which he wished to introduce Seurat and Signac, was not to survive; its life was therefore limited to this single presentation’ (Ce groupe auquel il voulait rattacher Seurat et Signac, ne devait pas vivre; son existence se borna donc à cette unique présentation). See Bernard 1994, vol. 1, pp. 241-242. The exhibition in Restaurant du Chalet is mentioned later in the letter (see n. 9 below).
8. Bernard’s military service was a regular topic of conversation. In 1888 it seemed for a while that he would have to go to Algeria, but in the end he was not called up.
9. In November-December 1887, Van Gogh organized an exhibition of painters of the ‘Petit Boulevard’ – Anquetin, Bernard, Koning, Toulouse-Lautrec and himself – in Grand Bouillon-Restaurant du Chalet, 43, avenue de Clichy. See exhib. cat. Paris 1988, p. 33. For the ‘Petit Boulevard’ see letter 584, n. 6. According to Bernard, the show was ‘an endeavour on Van Gogh’s part alone’ (une tentative de Van Gogh seul). See Bernard 1994, vol. 1, p. 242.
Bernard wrote about the room: ‘The room referred to here is the dining-room of a working-class restaurant on avenue de Clichy, whose owner Vincent had won over, and which he had turned into an exhibition of our paintings. Unfortunately, this socialist exhibition of our inflammatory canvases came to a rather sorry end. There was a violent altercation between the owner and Vincent, which made Vincent decide to take a hand-barrow without delay and cart the whole exhibition to his studio in rue Lepic. Obviously, the art of the Petit Boulevard had not been understood by its Barnum.’ (La salle dont il est question ici est celle d’un restaurant populaire de l’avenue de Clichy dont Vincent avait conquis le patron et qu’il avait transformée en exposition de nos tableaux. Par malheur, cette exhibition socialiste de nos toiles incendiaires se termina assez piteusement. Il y eut une altercation violente entre le patron et Vincent, ce qui décida ce dernier à prendre sans retard une charette à bras et à porter toute l’exposition à son atelier de la rue Lepic. Evidemment l’art du petit boulevard n’avait pas été compris de son barnum). See Lettres à Bernard 1911, p. 75.