Van Gogh’s Letter About His Brothel Visit Sells For $236,000 At Auction

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Carlie Porterfield   Forbes U.S. Staff

Vincent Van Gogh

A letter written by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, two of the 19th century’s greatest post-impressionist artists, about their visit to a brothel, sold at a Paris auction to the tune of about $236,000 and will be put on display in Amsterdam later this year.

KEY FACTS

- Believed to be the most important document written by Van Gogh that remained in private hands, the four-page letter written in French was purchased by the Van Gogh Foundation Tuesday and will be displayed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam starting in October.

- Written by Van Gogh and Gauguin to their friend and fellow post-impressionist artist Émile Bernard in early November 1888, it’s the only known correspondence Van Gogh had with another artist, according to the Van Gogh Museum.

- In the letter, the two artists detail their first week living and working together in Arles, a city in southern France, as well as their visits to a local brothel in an attempt to entice Bernard into joining them in Arles, where Van Gogh hoped to start an artist’s colony.

- Though the letter is addressed to Bernard, Van Gogh and Gauguin also took turns addressing each other—Van Gogh wrote in the letter that Gauguin is “an unspoiled creature with the instincts of a wild beast. With Gauguin, blood and sex have the edge over ambition,” while Gaugin in turn wrote to Bernard, “do not listen to Vincent, he is, as you know, easy to impress and ditto to be indulgent.”

- The men’s relationship took a turn for the worse just weeks after they wrote the letter, when they had a falling-out after Gauguin told Van Gogh he was planning to leave Arles, the same day Van Gogh famously cut off his own ear. 

- The letter will be one of dozens of documents slated to be displayed at a Van Gogh Museum exhibit starting in October titled, “Your loving Vincent: Van Gogh’s Greatest Letters.”

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“The letter is a visionary explanation of their artistic collaboration and the future of modern art,” read a statement from the Van Gogh Museum in the acquisition announcement. “The artist friends’ different tones of voice add a psychological depth to the letter, particularly considering the tragic end of the partnership.”

KEY BACKGROUND

According to oft-repeated legend, Van Gogh gave his ear to a prostitute at the brothel, but recent research suggests it was more likely a girl who worked at a cafe in town. Less than two years after the letter was penned, Van Gogh would die by suicide in a field in Auvers-sur-Oise, northwest of Paris, after seeking treatment for his mental health problems. Van Gogh is one of the most famous painters in the history of art, with pieces regularly fetching millions at auction years after his death, though he found little success during his lifetime. Van Gogh’s art has been in the headlines this year after one of his paintings was stolen from a Dutch museum closed because of the Covid-19 outbreak. The identity of the thief and the whereabouts of the painting remain unknown.

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Carlie Porterfield   Forbes U.S. Staff

I am a Texas native covering breaking news out of New York City. Previously, I was a Forbes intern in London. I am an alum of City, University of London and Texas State University.