Only Known Letter by 2 Great Artists Sells for Big Bucks

1888 letter was written weeks before Van Gogh, Gauguin's relationship soured
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2020 10:25 AM CDT
In $238K Letter, Van Gogh, Gauguin Talk Brothel Visits
Two pages of the letter, bearing the signatures of the artists, are displayed.   (Drouot)

The Vincent Van Gogh Foundation has purchased the only known letter signed by artists Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin at an auction in Paris. The cost of the four sheets of paper: $237,700, per Reuters. The artists penned the letter to fellow painter Emile Bernard in early November 1888, about a week into their two-month stay together in Arles, France, prior to Van Gogh cutting off part of his own ear, which was reportedly offered to a brothel maid, reports the Guardian. The letter, written in French, describes the post-impressionist painters' "excursions" in the brothels. "It's likely that we'll eventually go there often to work," Van Gogh writes. "Gauguin has a canvas in progress of the same night cafe that I also painted, but with figures seen in the brothels. It promises to become a beautiful thing." Auction house Drouot called the letter "exceptional," per Deutsche Welle.

The two men discuss their recent paintings and the future of art—Van Gogh predicts "a new series of powerful portraitists, simple and comprehensible to the whole of the general public"—as well as their impressions of each other. Gauguin is "an unspoiled creature with the instincts of a wild beast," writes Van Gogh. "With Gauguin, blood and sex have the edge over ambition." Gauguin responds that Van Gogh is "easy to impress and ditto to be indulgent." The foundation said the privately owned letter was the most important document by Van Gogh that wasn't held in a museum, as it's the only one he's known to have written with Gauguin. "Their artistic dialogue was unstoppable in those days and was even continued in brothels and in this letter," it said. The letter is to be displayed in an exhibition of letters at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum this October. (More Vincent Van Gogh stories.)

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