Van Gogh’s letters

The artist speaks
9 October 2009 - 3 January 2010

From 9 October 2009 to 3 January 2010 Van Gogh's letters will take centre stage in the exhibition Van Gogh's letters: The artist speaks. More than 120 original letters will be on show alongside the works that Van Gogh was writing about. These important documents have seldom or never been shown to the public due to their extreme fragility and sensitivity to light.

The combination of more than 300 works from the museum's own rich collection, including paintings, drawings, letters and letter sketches, offers a penetrating and comprehensive insight into Van Gogh as letter writer and as artist.

Especially for this exhibition the Van Gogh Museum has been able to secure the loan of three special letters from Vincent van Gogh to the artist Emile Bernard (1868-1941) from The Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

‘There are so many people, especially  among our pals, who imagine that words are nothing. On the contrary, don’t you think, it’s as interesting and as difficult to say a thing well as to paint a thing.’
Vincent van Gogh to Emile Bernard, 19 April 1888

Fascinating artistic correspondence
Vincent van Gogh was not only a ground-breaking artist, but also an ardent letter writer, who left to the world one of the most fascinating and multi-faceted bodies of artistic correspondence that we know. The 902 letters, of which more than 800 are held in the Van Gogh Museum, chronicle in direct and compelling style the story of his eventful life, the close bond with his brother and confidant Theo and the development of his work. These documents of more than 120 years ago with their many wonderful letter sketches unite the artist with the letter writer.

In the exhibition quotations from the letters guide the visitor through Van Gogh's paintings and those of his contemporaries, offering insights into his views on art and the role of the artist. The reader is witness to his dreams and disappointments, his passions and tribulations, friendships and quarrels, the battle with his illness and his all-encompassing desire to create art that would live on.

Letter by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, Arles, c. 21 November 1883, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)The letter sketches
Van Gogh's correspondence has a special bearing on his art because of the sketches of his own work that he included in his letters. These sketches served no artistic purpose but were made with the sole intention of showing Theo and his other correspondents what the paintings or drawings he was working on or had completed actually looked like. Visitors will be able to view a large number of letter sketches and enjoy the unique opportunity of being able to compare them with the paintings and drawings on which they are based.

Van Gogh Letters Project
October 2009 sees the culmination of the extensive and prestigious Van Gogh Letters Project. Fifteen years of research into the correspondence of Vincent van Gogh by the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences will be crowned by this special exhibition, the launch of a website encompassing the complete research results and the publication of a six-volume book in three languages.

Web edition:
The English-language web edition contains all 902 letters to and from Van Gogh in their original languages (Dutch and French) with new English translations and images of the authentic manuscripts. The letters are furnished with extensive annotations and illustrations of all works of art mentioned in the correspondence. The web edition also offers extensive search possibilities and will be freely accessible from 8 October 2009.

The book editionBook edition Vincent van Gogh- The letters
The six-volume publication Vincent van Gogh- The letters. The complete illustrated and annotated edition contains all the letters, complete with new translations, explanatory notes and illustrations of the more than 2,000 works of art mentioned in the correspondence. The letters have been included exactly as Van Gogh actually wrote them; in their original form without embellishment, rephrasing, adaptation or excision of passages. Compiled by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker. Design: Wim Crouwel. Published by the Van Gogh Museum, the Huygens Institute-KNAW and the Mercator Fonds. International co-editions with Thames & Hudson, Actes Sud and Amsterdam University Press. Six volumes, boxed, hardcover, 2,180 pages, circa 4,300 illustrations, available in Dutch, French and English.
Price € 395 (special offer price until 3 January 2010: € 325).

Multimedia tour
The multimedia tour takes the visitor by the hand on a tour of the most beautiful paintings and letters, with Vincent van Gogh in his own words on his ideas, ambitions and disappointments. The Van Gogh Museum's experts on the letters offer an additional commentary. Available in English, Dutch and French. Price € 5 for adults, pre-sale to groups € 3.50, for children and schools € 2.50. Listen to a preview in English or French.

iPhone application: Yours, Vincent
Enjoy Van Gogh's letters at home or on the move with the Van Gogh Museum's first iPhone application. Available for download free of charge via the iTunes App Store in English and Dutch. Or visit for a demo.

Van Gogh Blog
Follow Van Gogh on read Van Gogh's descriptions of his daily activities, accompany him to the places he visits, and share his opinions on art and literature. Available in English and Dutch from 6 October.

Van Gogh Museum Friday Nights
Every Friday night for the duration of the Van Gogh's letters: The artist speaks exhibition a writer will give a response to a letter by Van Gogh. And theatre collective Le Nu Perdu stages Fernweh, a theatre piece designed to make you experience the letters with all your senses.

Sunday lectures
During the exhibition there will be a number of Sunday lectures in which curators and researchers take a more in-depth look at Van Gogh's correspondence. The lectures can be attended free of charge by visitors to the museum. Starts at 14.00. Dates: 11 October (starting 15.00), 1 November, 22 november, 13 December and 3 January.

Van Gogh in focus
Accompanying the exhibition is a revised edition of Van Gogh and his letters in the Van Gogh in focus series, including a reproduction of Van Gogh's last letter. By Leo Jansen, Van Gogh Museum, 96 pages, 62 illustrations, available in English, Dutch and French. Price € 15.

For children
Frank Groothof (of Sesame Street fame) takes children on an audiotour of the collection's highlights, drawing inspiration from the letters. Available in English and Dutch. Price € 2.50.

Every Saturday and Sunday children aged six to 12 can take part in one of the three different workshops around Van Gogh's letters. Starts at 11.30 and 14.00. Reservation is recommended (information desk T +31 (0)20 570 52 43). Dutch spoken. Price € 6.-

Also available A letter from Vincent van Gogh (art book for children & adults) by Ceciel de Bie, Van Gogh Museum Enterprises, 48 pages in English, Dutch and French. Price € 14.95.

School groups
There are also various education packages, see

Partners of the Van Gogh Letters project
The Van Gogh Letters Project and the publication Vincent van Gogh - The letters were realised with the support of:

Huygens Institute - KNAW logo

Vincent van Gogh Foundation logo

Turing Foundation logo

IMAF logo

Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds logo

Linea d'Ombra logo

Rabobank logo

Mondriaan Foundation logo

Samsung logo

Holland Art Cities logo

AkzoNobel logo

I Amsterdam logo

With special thanks to:
Shigeru Myojin & Sherif Nadar
Ernst Nijkerk, ter nagedachtenis aan Inge Nijkerk-von der Laden
Gemeente Amsterdam - KPN Internet - Noortman Master Paintings
The Orentreich Family Foundation - Bob P. Haboldt - Colnaghi - Collection Robert Cohn, USA

The Letters Project logo

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