What Did Gauguin Say About Van Gogh Behind His Back? A New Book Reveals the Raw, Handwritten Notes of Great Artists

An autograph hunter's trove includes sketches by Michelangelo, a loan request by Monet, and a New Year's card from Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock.

The Austrian Expressionist artist Egon Schiele and his wife, Edith, send a postcard featuring a Schiele self-portrait. Courtesy TASCHEN.

A new book featuring a remarkable collection of autographs is offering a rare glimpse into the daily lives of famous artists ranging from Michelangelo to Jean-Michel Basquiat. Spanning 900 years, it features examples of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh’s handwriting, as well as documents written by famous scientists, explorers, and entertainers. Highlights include a New Year’s Eve greeting card from Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock and a stunning self-portrait postcard by Egon Schiele.

Over the past five decades, the Brazilian art historian Pedro Corrêa do Lago has built a collection of tens of thousands of documents from 5,000 important people throughout history. Now, he has selected 140 examples to include in The Magic of Handwriting, which is published this week by TASCHEN. The book’s author, Christine Nelson, is the curator of literary and historical manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City, where pieces of Corrêa do Lago’s collection was recently on view.

“[H]andwritten pieces are a tangible link to the past and operate as a sort of time machine, connecting us rather miraculously to people who have touched these papers before us and to the period during which they lived,” writes do Lago in the introduction. “These pieces are the closest bond we can form with these individuals and they allow us to share their emotions or participate in events that occurred much before our birth.”

The passionate collector, who began age 11, says documents with direct messages have always appealed to him. He mentions, in particular, that an agreement in which Monet pledges 35 of his paintings against a small loan “speaks volumes about the difficult beginnings of Impressionism.”

Claude Monet offers 35 paintings as collateral for a modest loan from Édouard Manet’s brother. Courtesy TASCHEN.

There are many other records of transactions, such as the invoice for 20 psychoanalysis sessions by Sigmund Freud. The book also includes Michelangelo’s sketches for a marble order for his first major architectural commission in Florence in 1518. There is a modest slip of paper that documents the purchase of six works by Francisco Goya—they are none other than his most haunting oil paintings of witches. A Spanish Duke and Duchess had bought them back then, and many are now on view in leading museums, including the Prado in Madrid (home to Witches’ Flight) and London’s National Gallery (The Forcibly Bewitched).

Other items encompass more candid interactions, like a New Year’s card from Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, which features a colorful Pollock drawing on one side. There is also a letter that captures the notoriously turbulent friendship between painters Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. “Unfortunately this friend went raving mad and for a whole month I lived under the constant fear of a mortal or tragic accident,” wrote Gauguin. A year later Van Gogh writes from an asylum. He lists the few objects from his bedroom at Arles, hoping to have his belongings shipped to him. They were the same furniture that appear in his celebrated trio of paintings, Bedroom in Arles.

See examples from The Magic of Handwriting below, which is available now through TASCHEN.

Francisco Goya’s invoice for his 1798 paintings “on the subject of witches.” Courtesy TASCHEN.

J. M. W. Turner invites a colleague to his new London gallery. Courtesy TASCHEN.

Paul Gauguin writes that he feared for his life in the weeks before Van Gogh’s breakdown in 1988. Courtesy TASCHEN.

Georges Seurat and Signac fear the 1889 exhibition of the Indépendants will it be “a flop.” Courtesy TASCHEN.

Two months before his suicide, Vincent van Gogh lists the furniture from the bedroom at Arles that he immortalized in oil. Courtesy TASCHEN.

Four illustrious friends—Renoir, Degas, Morisot, and Mallarmé—meet for dinner and conversation. Courtesy TASCHEN.

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