My dear Bernard,
Having promised to write to you,1 I want to begin by telling you that this part of the world seems to me as beautiful as Japan for the clearness of the atmosphere and the gay colour effects. The stretches of water2 make patches of a beautiful emerald and a rich blue in the landscapes, as we see it in the Japanese prints.3 Pale orange sunsets making the fields look blue — glorious yellow suns. However, so far I’ve hardly seen this part of the world in its usual summer splendour. The women’s costume is pretty, and especially on the boulevard on Sunday you see some very naive and well-chosen arrangements of colour.4 And that, too, will doubtless get even livelier in summer.  1v:2
I regret that living here isn’t as cheap as I’d hoped, and until now I haven’t found a way of getting by as easily as one could do in Pont-Aven. I started out paying 5 francs and now I’m on 4 francs a day. One would need to know the local patois, and know how to eat bouillabaisse and aïoli,5 then one would surely find an inexpensive family boarding-house. Then if there were several of us, I’m inclined to believe we’d get more favourable terms. Perhaps there’d be a real advantage in emigrating to the south for many artists in love with sunshine and colour. The Japanese may not be making progress in their country, but there’s no doubt that their art is being carried on in France. At the top of this letter I’m sending you a little croquis of a study that’s preoccupying me as to how to make something of it — sailors coming back with their sweethearts towards the town, which projects the strange silhouette of its drawbridge against a huge yellow sun.6
I have another study of the same drawbridge with a group of washerwomen.7 Shall be happy to have a line from you to know what you’re doing and where you’re going to go. A very warm handshake to you and the friends.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 590 | CL: B2
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, Sunday, 18 March 1888

1. Van Gogh had got Theo to pass on this message; see letter 578.
2. Arles is on the river Rhône. There are also several canals in and outside the town, including the Arles-Bouc Canal, which is shown in the letter sketch. It is also depicted in the paintings of the Langlois bridge mentioned later in the letter.
3. Although strictly speaking a ‘crépon’ is a woodcut printed on crepe paper or crepe fabric, Van Gogh uses the term for Japanese prints in general, which he also calls ‘Japonaiseries’. He and Theo had built up a collection in Paris, and later he repeatedly urged his brother to acquire new ones. See for their collection of Japanese prints: cat. Amsterdam 1991. In July 1888 Van Gogh wrote to Theo telling him that he had introduced Bernard and Anquetin to Japanese graphic art (letter 642). It was a major influence on the new style that Anquetin and Bernard developed, Cloisonnism. Cf. letter 575, n. 7.
4. For the women of Arles, see letter 578, n. 14. They wore the traditional costume of the region. See exhib. cat. Arles 1999, and Dorn 1990, p. 152.
5. Bouillabaisse is a regional fish soup served with garlic-flavoured mayonaise (aïoli).
6. The fragment Walking couple (F 544 / JH 1369 [2572]) is all that has survived of this study, which is reproduced in its entirety in the letter sketch The Langlois bridge with walking couple (F - / JH 1370). In letter 589 Van Gogh said that he had ruined the study.
7. The Langlois bridge with washerwomen (F 397 / JH 1368 [2571]).