Originally published 05/09/2013
On a hot Provencal day in July 1890, Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo – blocking out, as he often did, space for a drawing. In it a black cat stealthily circles a dead painter’s garden. The portentous ink was set: four days later van Gogh had shot himself. Now a collection of papers, for sale at Sotheby’s in New York on Wednesday 8 May, shows that many of the artist’s contemporaries shared his epistolary flair.Letters by Manet, Picasso, Renoir, Signac, Matisse, Chagall and Gauguin are composed not only of the articulated preoccupations of the artist (Picasso and Renoir are fixated on culinary pursuits) but also their visual riffs. Snapshot compositions sketched on the fly and odd motifs punctuate these sheets.