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Van Gogh's personal letters debut online in English

November 3, 2009 |  3:26 pm

Vangogh

File this under impossibly cool art websites.

In what is perhaps the first project of its kind, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has put English-language translations of 902 of Vincent van Gogh's personal letters on line.

Van Gogh was a native of Holland who spent much of his career in France, which naturally means that he often corresponded in Dutch and French. The website -- vangoghletters.org -- provides English versions of his letters and allows you to search them by keyword, correspondent, city and more. What's more, the website is free.

While Van Gogh's letters have been published many times before in different volumes, the museum's new website -- which launched last month -- offers a chance to interact with them with astonishing levels of intimacy and dexterity. (Thanks to Art Info for alerting us to its presence.)

The site allows you to view facsimile images of the letters and to view the English translations side by side with the original-language versions. Some include rough sketches that are also viewable online. In addition, each of the letters is richly annotated to help readers navigate the artist's references to different people in his life and even some of the biblical references that he makes.

The Van Gogh Museum is showing an exhibition on the artist's letters that runs through January. It has also published a book featuring the letters in English translation.

In a letter addressed to his brother, Theo, and dated July 23, 1890, the artist thanks him for sending him money and writes about his current condition.

"Thanks for your kind letter and for the 50-franc note it contained," Van Gogh writes. "I’d really like to write to you about many things, but I sense the pointlessness of it."

Six days later, the artist, 37, killed himself with a gunshot to the chest. 

-- David Ng

Photo: a letter written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo in 1881. Credit: Van Gogh Museum / AFP/Getty Images

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