23 beautifully illustrated letters by Van Gogh, Warhol, Kahlo, etc. show the long-lost art of hand writing.



Letter writing is probably the most beautiful manifestation in human relations, in fact, it is its finest residue” writes artist John Graham in a letter to his wife.

Long before our hours were consumed with texting, tweeting, and emailing cat GIFs there was something magnificent about the smell of manilla paper as you peeled open an envelope to find within it, a personalized work of fine art. You had a sense of the time and effort it took to write, and warmly understood that it was only created with only you in mind.

The etching of your lover, friend, or colleague’s handwriting seemed to have a distinctive style that captured the spontaneous nature of the moment. With a pen and paper, their eye and hands, they felt free enough to express their inner most thoughts by adding drawings or the scent of their favourite cologne to communicate their message more clearly. “One should never forget that the power of words is limited.” writes Walter Kuhn.

Illustrated letters have the ability to recreate the spirit and vivid imagination of an author, for with their very finger tips they are able to paint the sights, smells, sounds, memories, and emotions they need to convey. For this reason images should not be thought of as subsidiary to words, whether metaphorical or descriptive, often images can communicate what words cannot. For visual thinkers they are a means of connection in an effort to magnify humanity.

New media has been the bullet in the pulsing heart of the personal letter, and with this we are losing something much more valuable. “What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do.” writes Vincent Van Gogh, with it we find a balance between presence and contemplation. It seems the hand can access what the computer screen never will.

There are over 170 of these artist-made letters in a book entitled More Than Words, by Liz Kirwin, which is available for purchase from Princeton Architectural Press and Amazon. Browsing each of these love letters, thank you notes, and travelogues below the words come alive, through illustration we can sense their immediacy and are provided an intimate peek into the secret garden of each artist. 

Vincent Van Gogh

1_long-lost art of hand writing

Gladys Nilsson

2_long-lost art of hand writing

Frida Kahlo

3_long-lost art of hand writing

Rutherford Boyd

4_long-lost art of hand writing

Paul Branson

5_long-lost art of hand writing

Andy Warhol

6_long-lost art of hand writing

Gaston Longchamp

7_long-lost art of hand writing

Moses Soyer

8_long-lost art of hand writing

Alfred Joseph Frueh

9_long-lost art of hand writing

Antoine de Saint Exupery

10_long-lost art of hand writing

Man Ray

11_long-lost art of hand writing

Eero Saarinen

12_long-lost art of hand writing

Joseph Lindon Smith

13_long-lost art of hand writing

16_long-lost art of hand writing

15_long-lost art of hand writing

14_long-lost art of hand writing

Alexander Calder

17_long-lost art of hand writing

Robert Lortac

18_long-lost art of hand writing

Edith Schloss

19_long-lost art of hand writing

Red Grooms

20_long-lost art of hand writing

Yves Saint-Laurent

21_long-lost art of hand writing

Rockwell Kent

22_long-lost art of hand writing

George Grosz

23_long-lost art of hand writing

Sources: brainpickings.org,  wp.com,  culturenlifestyle.com,  huffingtonpost.com