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Historic letter written by van Gogh and Gaugin sold for over $230,000 in Paris

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2020-06-17

An “exceptional” joint letter written by artists Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin has sold for more than $230,000 at auction in Paris this week.

The letter, which dates from 1888, was co-written as they lived together at a boarding house in the French town of Arles, and was sent to their mutual friend artist Émile Bernard.

The revealing letter mentioned the pair’s regular visits to brothels in the town, as well as their views on the “immense renaissance” of art they helped create in the late 19th century.

Having spent more than a century in private hands, the letter sold at the Drouot auction house for €210,600 ($236,650) to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The pair began their friendship in 1888, when Vincent’s brother Theo arranged an exhibition of Gauguin’s paintings and the two painters began a significant correspondence that influenced their ideas about art.

(Image: Drouot’s)

Vincent invited Gauguin to stay with him for eight weeks at the Yellow House in Arles, where he had rented rooms and a studio, and painted some of his most famous works including Sunflowers and Van Gogh’s Chair.

It was his dream to establish an artist’s commune in the town, and the relationship began well, as the pair painted together and visited the town’s brothels and cafes.

In the letter, dated November 1-2, 1888, 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…

“At the moment 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.”

Van Gogh writes in the letter “Gauguin interests me greatly as a man – greatly” and described him as “an unspoiled creature with the instincts of a wild beast”, in whom “blood and sex have the edge over ambition”.

Gauguin responds in the letter “Do not listen to Vincent, he is, as you know, easy to impress and ditto to be indulgent.”

(Image: Drouot’s)

Despite a positive start, the relationship between the two became strained and quickly deteriorated, as van Gogh feared Gauguin was planning to leave, and Gauguin believed he was being financially exploited by Vincent and his art dealer brother.

In December it reached breaking point, as Gauguin claimed van Gogh came at him with a straight razor – just hours before he famously cut off part of his own ear, and took it to a woman at a brother both artists had frequented.

Van Gogh was hospitalised due to a severe mental breakdown and Gauguin left Arles, never to return.

The letter sold at Drouot on Tuesday (June 16) was the only one the pair wrote together during their brief and tempestuous stay together.

Although they continued a correspondence they never saw each other again, and just a few months later in July 1890 van Gogh took his own life.

In June 2019 the gun van Gogh reportedly used to shoot himself sold at auction in France for $181,000.


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