My dear old Bernard,
I’m writing a line to thank you kindly for your drawings; I find them done in a bit too much of a rush, and I like the two drawings of whores the most;1 but there’s an idea in all of them. I’ve been overloaded with work these past few days, because the weather’s really beautiful and you have to make the most of the fine days, which are short.
I can’t alter the price that I quoted to you, 3 francs for food alone, and in addition, well, whatever there would be on top of that.2 But I have no doubt that everything Gauguin tells you about the prices down here is correct. But I see you near your departure to do your service, and would like to be able to persuade your father to supply you with enough to strengthen you thoroughly first, without your work suffering as a result.
Let him stump up at last, to the point of giving you whatever’s fair during the interval between now and your service.
I haven’t ceased writing this same thing to you all the time, that if you go to Africa you’ll work there and you’ll see just the  1v:2 kind of nature you have to see in order to develop your talent as a painter and colourist to its full extent. But that can be done only to the detriment of your poor carcass, if your father doesn’t make it possible for you to avoid becoming anaemic or to catch debilitating dysentery through lack of strengthening food before this African ordeal.
It’s scarcely possible to make yourself strong over there, and if you go to a hot climate, I’m far from saying you have to fatten yourself up beforehand, but I do say you have to pay attention to your food for some time in advance. And I’m sticking to that, having found myself doing well here on that regime, and the heat of Africa is something different again from that of Arles.
You’ll emerge from this ordeal of your service much stronger, and strong enough for a whole career as an artist or — broken.  1v:3
In any event, I’d like you to come enormously, and if Gauguin comes too, all that will be left for us to regret will be that it’s winter and not the warm season. I’m beginning to believe more and more that food has something to do with our power to think and to make paintings; as for me, it doesn’t contribute to the success of my work if my stomach’s bothering me. Anyway, I believe that if your father wanted quietly to keep your paintings and to fund you fairly generously, on balance he’ll lose less than by doing otherwise. In the south, the senses are elated, the hand becomes nimbler, the eye livelier, the brain clearer, on one condition, though: that dysentery or something else doesn’t spoil all that by debilitating you too much. On that point, I really dare to take my stand in believing that he who loves artistic work will see his productive capacities develop in the south, but watch your blood, and watch everything else.  1r:4
And now you’ll perhaps tell me that I’m bloody well getting on your nerves with all that.
That you want to go to the brothel, and that you don’t give a damn about all the rest. My word, that depends, but I can’t say other than that. Art is long and life is short,3 and we must wait patiently while trying to sell our skin dearly. Me, I’d really like to be your age and go off with whatever knowledge I had to do my service in Africa. But for example, I’d get myself a better body than the one I have. If Gauguin and I are here, as is probable, together — then here for certain we’ll do our level best to spare you expenses. But on his side, your father should certainly do his best too, and have confidence in us that we’re not trying to extract money from him pointlessly. But in order to do good work you have to eat well, be well housed, have a screw from time to time, smoke your pipe and drink your coffee in peace. I’m not saying that the rest counts for nothing, and leave everyone free to do as he sees fit, but I do say that this system seems preferable to many others to me. Good handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 693 | CL: B17
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, between Thursday, 27 September and Monday, 1 October 1888

1. See letter 687, n. 14, for the drawings Bernard sent. Van Gogh discusses the two sketches Prostitute, which are both on one side of a sheet. Brothel scene is on the back.
2. Van Gogh had written about the cost of living in Arles in his previous letter to Bernard (684).
3. A well-known saying that derives from the first aphorism of Hippocrates. It is known chiefly through Seneca, in the Latin translation: ‘Ars longa, vita brevis’ (De brevitate vitae, 1, 1).