Van Gogh: The Life Info

Fan Club Reviews of best titles on art fashion, artists, history, photography. Check out our top reviews and see what others have to say about the best art and photography books of the year. Check out Van Gogh: The Life Community Reviews - Find out where to download Van Gogh: The Life available in multiple formats:Paperback,Hardcover,Kindle,Audible Audiobook Van Gogh: The Life Author:Steven Naifeh,Gregory White Smith Formats:Paperback,Hardcover,Kindle,Audible Audiobook Publication Date:Dec 4, 2012


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
• “The definitive biography for decades to
come.”—Leo Jansen, curator, the Van Gogh Museum, and
co-editor of 
Vincent van Gogh: The Complete
Letters


Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith,
who galvanized readers with their Pulitzer Prize–winning biography
of Jackson Pollock, have written another tour de force—an
exquisitely detailed, compellingly readable portrait of Vincent van
Gogh. Working with the full cooperation of the Van Gogh Museum in
Amsterdam, Naifeh and Smith have accessed a wealth of previously
untapped materials to bring a crucial understanding to the
larger-than-life mythology of this great artist: his early struggles to
find his place in the world; his intense relationship with his brother
Theo; and his move to Provence, where he painted some of the best-loved
works in Western art. The authors also shed new light on many unexplored
aspects of Van Gogh’s inner world: his erratic and tumultuous
romantic life; his bouts of depression and mental illness; and the
cloudy circumstances surrounding his death at the age of
thirty-seven.
 
Though countless books have been written
about Van Gogh, no serious, ambitious examination of his life has been
attempted in more than seventy years. Naifeh and Smith have re-created
Van Gogh’s life with an astounding vividness and psychological
acuity that bring a completely new and sympathetic understanding to this
unique artistic genius.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE
YEAR BY The New York Times Book
Review 
• The Washington
Post 
• The Wall Street
Journal 
• San Francisco Chronicle 
NPR • The
Economist 
• Newsday 
BookReporter 

“In their magisterial new
biography, Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh and
Gregory White Smith provide a guided tour through the personal world and
work of that Dutch painter, shining a bright light on the evolution of
his art. . . . What [the authors] capture so powerfully is Van
Gogh’s extraordinary will to learn, to persevere against the
odds.”Michiko Kakutani, The New
York Times


“Brilliant . . . Steven Naifeh and
Gregory White Smith are the big-game hunters of modern art history. . . .
[Van Gogh] rushes along on a tide of research. . . . At once a
model of scholarship and an emotive, pacy chunk of
hagiography.”—Martin Herbert, The Daily
Telegraph 
(London)

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Van Gogh: The Life:

5

Jan 05, 2013

I've never read a book so thoroughly detailed. At times it felt like a day-by-day account of his 37 years. The book establishes early on that Van Gogh was at best "quirky" and at worst had a few disorders, but hey, who doesn't. I'm not a psychologist, but when you are sleeping with your walking stick in your bed to punish yourself, I don't know, that's probably a red flag for later developments. For the first 600 or 700 pages, I developed a dislike for Van Gogh; he's an unlikeable loser. But by I've never read a book so thoroughly detailed. At times it felt like a day-by-day account of his 37 years. The book establishes early on that Van Gogh was at best "quirky" and at worst had a few disorders, but hey, who doesn't. I'm not a psychologist, but when you are sleeping with your walking stick in your bed to punish yourself, I don't know, that's probably a red flag for later developments. For the first 600 or 700 pages, I developed a dislike for Van Gogh; he's an unlikeable loser. But by the end there is empathy and compassion for all that he went through. Of course, he could have just gotten a job at some point, but then the world would be the lesser for not having his art. He taught himself, researched, studied, applied new techniques, which all lead to him 'becoming' Van Gogh. The book doesn't really spell out exactly why Van Gogh and his art became a worldwide phenomenom. It doesn't critique the art; the book just details the life. Most people are familiar with the art from Van Gogh's final two years, the fact that he cut off his ear and killed himself. Obviously, those few items don't tell the whole story, and the whole story which at times is repetitious is ultimately fascinating. He lived in interesting times in Europe and in art. Everyone wrote letters, kept family histories. Van Gogh exists at this crossroads between the old ways of society of manual labor and a new era. He was a craftman who appreciated the working man. He was relentless. You have to appreciate that.

At the end, I was sad that he passed; he had found his stroke, his style of painting that combined many of the interests and influences that became beloved by the world. But I was also relieved for him. He did not have an easy life. When he died, he became the embodiment of the suffering artist. The world learned of this solitary figure and fell in love with what they took to be a romantic figure.

The book theorizes that he did not kill himself and they make a very understandable and believable case that he did not.

The authors read everything that Van Gogh wrote and everything that Van Gogh read. The level of researching is amazing. The writing pulls you through a lengthy and detailed story, a life worth examining. ...more
4

Jun 23, 2019

A social pariah's life: stalking shades and hues, skirting the cliffs of sanity, into the forever's starry night.

Fascinates and inspires.
5

Jul 31, 2014

By far the saddest biography I have ever read, VAN GOGH is also one of the most stirring and superbly detailed biographies I have ever read. That Vincent van Gogh's life was such a brutally painful and difficult one should not deter readers from embarking on this massive journey, yet the fact that a 951-page book reaches page 750 before the subject has what could genuinely be called a period of happiness is a testament to the skill with which the book is written, for despite the utterly By far the saddest biography I have ever read, VAN GOGH is also one of the most stirring and superbly detailed biographies I have ever read. That Vincent van Gogh's life was such a brutally painful and difficult one should not deter readers from embarking on this massive journey, yet the fact that a 951-page book reaches page 750 before the subject has what could genuinely be called a period of happiness is a testament to the skill with which the book is written, for despite the utterly depressing nature of Van Gogh's life, the authors make it a terrifically compelling one to read about. The amount of detail, in no small part but not entirely due to the prodigious correspondence that exists between Vincent and his brother Theo, is as complete as any biography could (or should) aspire to, and by the end of the book, one feels as though as though one has lived alongside Vincent through almost his entire life. The book approaches yet manages to skirt oppressiveness of detail, a superb feat given the consistency of the arc of Van Gogh's tortured life, and while the repetitious nature of Van Gogh's behavior and follies becomes almost as tiresome as it must have for his family, there is nothing in the book that should have been left out. The authors, too, have a splendid sense of art and how Van Gogh's mind was reflected in his art, and all this is described with clarity and, and at the same time, poetry. I wept as I reached the end of Vincent's life, in part because it was such a sad and unhappy life, but also because by the book's end, I felt as though I knew and understood the man behind some of the greatest art in history. Such should be the goal of every biography. ...more
5

Dec 06, 2014

He expressed his truth in letters, and on canvas, immortalized a complex and beautiful soul.*

Pulitzer-winning biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have gleaned a thorough and insightful portrait of Vincent van Gogh, primarily from meticulous research of his extensive letters to his brother Theo, who was a successful art dealer in Paris and his most ardent confidante and supporter. Vincent's epistolary story reveals thoughts and feelings ranging from spiritual, philosophical and He expressed his truth in letters, and on canvas, immortalized a complex and beautiful soul.*

Pulitzer-winning biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have gleaned a thorough and insightful portrait of Vincent van Gogh, primarily from meticulous research of his extensive letters to his brother Theo, who was a successful art dealer in Paris and his most ardent confidante and supporter. Vincent's epistolary story reveals thoughts and feelings ranging from spiritual, philosophical and poetic to muddled, indecisive or obsessive, his fevered search for truth in a vision that would inform his artistic development and his greatest achievements.

From childhood, Vincent would display disruptive behavior unpalatable to his minister father and strict mother, who possessed somewhat of a cool, obsessive nature herself. He enjoyed sketching since a young lad and having uncles in the art trade would have given Vincent a good start in his young adulthood, but his erratic manner often alienated people and that employment abruptly ended.

His failed attempt as a missionary, loss of faith, and what he must have seen as rejection from his parents, reawakened in him the sense of abandonment and loneliness that had taken root as early as his schoolboy years when he felt an outcast. Naifeh's and White Smith's extractions from his letters during the production of his early paintings show an internal pathos that reveal what we know today of his developing mental illness, which when spliced with artwork featuring peasant life and nature, a need to express his truth and a progressing avant-garde aesthetic (at the time called nonsense from a madman) define the tortured, harrowed life between swings of violence and utter degradation; and, on the other extreme, illuminate the evolution of his brilliance.

“That mind has for so long been preoccupied with things our society today has made impossible to solve and which he, with his kind heart and tremendous energy, nevertheless fought against.… He holds such sweeping ideas on questions of what is humane and how we should regard the world, that one first has to relinquish all one’s conventional ideas in order to grasp what he means.” - Theo van Gogh

Some of his most revealing paintings are his self portraits as he peers into himself quizzically, searching perhaps for the sentiment he yearns to express in his uniqueness.

"I want to get to the point where people say of my work: that man feels deeply, that man feels keenly....I want to paint what I feel and feel what I paint.”

Vincent's passion for landscapes and pictorials of earthliness populate his extraordinary legacy and often reflect his psychological state. In 'Wheatfields with Crows' is depicted the fierce changeability of the multifaceted natural world that filled his vision: the rolling, inconstant rhythms of wheat against the menacing turmoil in the sky - a representation of van Gogh, the artist on the brink of an emotional storm.


Ironically, some of his most acclaimed work, specifically one most popular masterpiece ( and my personal favorite), of undeniable perfection in nature's glorious splendor: 'Starry Night' was painted in the asylum at St. Remy - the explosive bursts of light and roiling quality of the sky are indications of a psychological maelstrom which his doctors claimed were epileptic.

"How your brain must have labored, and how you must have risked everything to the very limit where vertigo is inevitable," said Theo when he saw the swirling, intemperate painting.

I was a little taken aback with the biographers' belief that his tragic end was no suicide, contrary to the accepted norm that the fatal wound was self inflicted, surmising instead that a teenaged ruffian named Rene Secretan, known to brandish a gun and who often bullied Vincent: might have shot him, but that Vincent covered up for the boy in his desire to spare him.

Vincent left behind a life so well expressed in his letters that the authors could create this passionate portrait of an artist as a troubled man, which at 1000+ pages is itself a masterful work of art, a painfully heartrending reflection of an intelligent, colorful yet restless life, who suffered in his quest to articulate meaning in his art, and died not realizing that he had already done just that.

"It must be good to die in the knowledge that one has done some truthful work."

* me
...more
1

Aug 05, 2014

I don't usually write such lengthy, or such scathing reviews but this time I feel compelled to. First of all I will say that once I picked up this book, I really couldn't put it down. It was an incredibly intriguing, detailed, and fascinating story of a man we all know and some of us love despite his "issues". The authors spent ten years researching and writing this tome and in the end, I think they used their Harvard Law credentials to convict the subject of the crime of mental illness and of I don't usually write such lengthy, or such scathing reviews but this time I feel compelled to. First of all I will say that once I picked up this book, I really couldn't put it down. It was an incredibly intriguing, detailed, and fascinating story of a man we all know and some of us love despite his "issues". The authors spent ten years researching and writing this tome and in the end, I think they used their Harvard Law credentials to convict the subject of the crime of mental illness and of being a person no one else could tolerate. Clearly they'd done their research, but the way they chose to portray Vincent from the very beginning of his life, and of this book, was inexcusable. Like slimebag lawyers using other people's perceptions and recollections to make their case, they manipulated the “evidence” to support their claims.

Having read Volume One of Vincent van Gogh The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, edited by Leo Jansen, I picked up this book thinking it would fill in some of the gaps that might help me have a better understanding of the subject: van Gogh and his life. (You can read all of his letters too, online for free, at http://vangoghletters.org/vg/.) Once I had caught up with Vincent's life in this book at the time his letters began, I noted how the authors would take his words, use them out of context to prove their point, ascribe questionable meaning to what he said and apply negative, inflammatory descriptors whenever possible to what he said and how he said it. Imagine my surprise when Letter 155, which I thought was a most lengthy, beautiful supplication, was described by the authors as “pages and pages of defensive posturing and convoluted casuistry...using veiled constructions.” The authors admit in the addendum at the end of the book to reading between the lines and assuming that what Vincent said was not always what he meant, that he was manipulating people because he took a different tone depending on to whom he was writing. But don't we all do this? And how do they justify this interpretation of his sentiment?

In any case, the list of contentious words used over and over to describe Vincent and his behaviour is, I find, reprehensible: maniacal, paranoid, delusional, volatile, leaps of fantasy, rapture of enthusiasm, leap of unreality, fits of frustration, repeated failures, storm of protest, lashed out, lamented, moaned, complained endlessly, spasm of regret, fever of dread, erupted, boasted, sputtered, admonished, pleaded, begged, rhapsodised, wailed... How they can apply this interpretation to Vincent's written words, which to me could be taken in a completely different way, is unfathomable. These descriptors were used from the beginning as evidence that he was mentally ill from the start. I dare you to read the letters and form the same conclusion. The rest of the information about Vincent is nothing but heresay. Imagine having a strained relationship with your parents and someone writing about you basing their interpretations of your behaviour on how these other people felt about it. What these other people saw. And the gossip they spread. I assume the authors had other sources of information but they cleverly used ubiquitous “quotes” and referred the reader to some website which supposedly contains every detail of who said what and where they got these “citations” which makes it virtually impossible to fact check their assertions. The assumption that because it's quoted and cited, that it's actually a correct interpretation of the situation would be absurd.

My disgruntlement is not about the alternative ending, which I actually find more plausible than the story of Vincent's attempted suicide. I do not question the details of his life: where he went, who he met, what he did. What I object to is the way they portray the man. They paint such an unflattering picture of a man who, if you read what he actually wrote, comes across as an extremely intelligent, sensitive, passionate, exuberant, persistent, energetic, chatty, needy, kind, spiritual, learned, and lonely man who loved his parents, wanted to please and help them and others, and who wanted a deep connection to other people and to the world around him but was thwarted, chastised, bossed around, controlled by others, bullied and ostracised wherever he went. To be sure, it takes two to tango, but I object to the way the authors place all the blame on Vincent himself when in so many cases he appeared to be reacting to the way other people were treating him. His sad story is a tale of traumatic events, wrong turns, bad decisions, and a striving for something that he could only achieve posthumously. At the very least Vincent was a deeply philosophical man who understood something special about the nature of people and the world. It's too bad he wasn't able to express it during his lifetime in a way that other people could perceive it. If you want to find out about the superficial details of Vincent's life you can read this book and appropriate the opinions of other people. If you want to understand Vincent better, read his letters and look at his paintings. You'll get a much clearer picture of who he was by what he, himself, left behind. ...more
5

Dec 04, 2019

During this summer I had the chance to visit Van Goghs museum in Amsterdam and after my return home I just had to find out more. Before my trip I looked up interesting locations to visit up on TripAdvisor and of course this museum was in top 5. Seeing this my thoughts were:

1) Oh yeah, he was Dutch, wasn't he... and
2) I really don't know more about him other then the ear incident, Sunflowers and Starry Night

This gap in knowledge had to be fixed!

Vincent was an incredibly tragic and passionate During this summer I had the chance to visit Van Goghs museum in Amsterdam and after my return home I just had to find out more. Before my trip I looked up interesting locations to visit up on TripAdvisor and of course this museum was in top 5. Seeing this my thoughts were:

1) Oh yeah, he was Dutch, wasn't he... and
2) I really don't know more about him other then the ear incident, Sunflowers and Starry Night

This gap in knowledge had to be fixed!

Vincent was an incredibly tragic and passionate figure, battered by his own manias his entire life and always dreaming of fame and redemption he never got. It was hard reading about all of his personal, interpersonal or financial failures. The blow by blow accounts of all of his friendship meltdowns struck me quite deep and made me feel quite sorry for him, long before the ear incident. Which undoubtedly helped in making himself into a legend that he is today, and one of the best representatives of struggling artists everywhere.

This book is overwhelmingly thorough, it feels as if the only way to find out more would be to read all of his letters myself. Thankfully for every painting mentioned I could recall it from the museum or use the internet to look them up (this was especially useful for the mentioned paintings that were made by his contemporaries). I personally loved this book, but I see a lot of other reviewers say that the author portrayed Vincent in overly negative light in this book, looking at everything through the lens of mental illness. To some extent I can see why people might have a problem with this, but I would have to read more biographies and probably the "My Dear Theo" collection of his letters to see if they are right...

I might start looking into this in a few years (it was a 900 page book, I need a break from this topic). ...more
1

Jun 16, 2012

I am finally finished and spent a lot time skimming through chapters to avoid repeats, overblown accounts of everything, and dull negativity.
I got sick of re-reading pages on the dysfunctional or negative relationships Vincent seemed to have with every man, woman, and child he ever met. How many blow by blow accounts does a person need to read?

Sure, V was moody, argumentative, opinionated, and obsessive, but the man MUST have had good qualities. To the authors V is a burden and haunted, they I am finally finished and spent a lot time skimming through chapters to avoid repeats, overblown accounts of everything, and dull negativity.
I got sick of re-reading pages on the dysfunctional or negative relationships Vincent seemed to have with every man, woman, and child he ever met. How many blow by blow accounts does a person need to read?

Sure, V was moody, argumentative, opinionated, and obsessive, but the man MUST have had good qualities. To the authors V is a burden and haunted, they barely dip into their own box of word-colour to paint the man's character with some yellow, blue or red.

However, they do use hyperbole to describe letters and encounters in a way that is based purely on their opinion. Signac writes "tepidly" to invite Vincent to Cassis - how do the authors get this word when the letter quoted says, "come do a study or two in this pretty country."? What is tepid about that? Why do they always skew Vincent's encounters so they are anti?

They write about how negatively Theo responded to Vincent, yet, after V died, Theo obviously broke with grief. Theo describes Vincent to his Mother, "he was so my own, own, brother." And this isn't a retrospective romantic notion - and "romantic" is how the author's describe any positive comments made by the brothers, it is a heartfelt expression of a, for the most, loving relationship.

The authors harp on and on about how Vincent spent his whole life trying to tell others how to think, but this book does the same thing.
And I can only think Why?
Why is this bio so dark? Why don't they offer a lucid explanation or two? Why don't they explore the mental illnesses in the family more?
Especially in light of the fact 3 of them ended up in asylums at some point or other?

And I do not agree that this bio is well written. The author's are competent writers but if they use far too many adjectives to create a biased account of a life then it becomes a sort of polemic that can't be trusted.
Vincent led an often troubled, sometimes glorious, often ordinary (albeit extraordinarily artistic) life amidst what appears to be mental illness (bipolar?). His life must be contextualised by this instead of being treated as if he could choose a different way of being. Because this bio doesn't do that it is not to be taken seriously. Far better to read about Vincent without all the sensationalist language and overdone description than waste time on this bloody great doorstop.
...more
5

May 06, 2015

A very comprehensive biography of an intense and passionate man that provides a deep insight into his mind and creative process. A thoroughly researched portrait of Vincent's tragic life. Vincent initially comes off as an arrogant and self-destructive man. But he was as much a victim of the society that rejected him for being different. Vincent would start his career as an art dealer. But he was neither smooth talking nor good with people, which would mean an end to his career as an art dealer. A very comprehensive biography of an intense and passionate man that provides a deep insight into his mind and creative process. A thoroughly researched portrait of Vincent's tragic life. Vincent initially comes off as an arrogant and self-destructive man. But he was as much a victim of the society that rejected him for being different. Vincent would start his career as an art dealer. But he was neither smooth talking nor good with people, which would mean an end to his career as an art dealer. Faced with his failure and rejection from his family, he would try to find solace in religion. But his later foray into a career as a missionary would also end in a similar failure. The intensity and passion that he brought to his attempted career as a missionary or a preacher, and his constant search for meaning would alienate most of his peers.

Faced with his failure in all his career endeavors, and having been rejected and shunned by family and friends and women, his life would soon spiral downward into intense melancholy and guilt that would mark his painting career. Throughout his artistic career, he would search for solace and meaning, often keeping emotional crisis and complete breakdown at bay by his furious dedication to his work and delusions of future success. It is remarkable the amount of intensity with which he worked despite being rejected and ridiculed at every step. His art was his solace and his mode of expression. He puoured his emotional and spiritual feelings into his work. He may not have been a good draftsman but his passion and intensity speaks through his colours.

The authors here also make a good case that the gunshot wound that killed Vincent might infact have been an accident, a result of an altercation rather than suicide.

A remarkable and heartbreaking biography. ...more
5

Nov 22, 2018

En este curso me matriculé de dos asignaturas de estética, entendiéndose estética como la rama de la filosofía aplicada al arte, no la estética corporal, aunque curiosamente también tengo la titulación (y nunca ejercí porque no pude encontrar trabajo en ello). Para estas asignaturas tengo que realizar un trabajo/ensayo de investigación, con la ventaja de que la elección del tema corre a cargo del los propios alumnos. Yo elegí un tema relacionado con Vincent van Gogh para el que necesitaba En este curso me matriculé de dos asignaturas de estética, entendiéndose estética como la rama de la filosofía aplicada al arte, no la estética corporal, aunque curiosamente también tengo la titulación (y nunca ejercí porque no pude encontrar trabajo en ello). Para estas asignaturas tengo que realizar un trabajo/ensayo de investigación, con la ventaja de que la elección del tema corre a cargo del los propios alumnos. Yo elegí un tema relacionado con Vincent van Gogh para el que necesitaba conocer muy bien su biografía, así que decidí documentarme con, entre otras cosas, este tochaco que tardó en investigarse y escribirse diez años. El resultado: un documento completísimo, con mucha información, no solo sobre Van Gogh, sino también de allegados, contexto histórico y social de la época, láminas, fotos nunca antes publicadas (cedidas por el Museo Van Gogh de Amsterdam)... En fin, lo que viene a ser, me atrevo a decir, la biografía definitiva del pintor. Se nota el esmero y la implicación de los autores, aunque en algunos momentos no me gustó que incluyeran cliffhangers, lo vi innecesario y un poco sensacionalista, pero bueno, es un pequeño "pero".

He tardado casi dos meses en leer este libro, pero lo he disfrutado y he aprendido mucho. Ahora voy a por algo más complicado: los ensayos filosóficos de estética para seguir completando mi trabajo. No los pondré en mi Goodreads porque no leeré libros enteros, solo algunos fragmentos y también artículos sueltos. La odisea continua, aprendiendo pero con ganas de superarla. ...more
5

Jul 06, 2018

This was by far the most incredibly detailed biography I have ever read but also one of the most fascinating books in general I’ve ever picked up. I have always been drawn to van Gogh’s art and also him as a person, but admittedly didn’t know much despite having gone to the museum dedicated to him twice. He is such a legendary figure but the real story, meticulously researched and written here, is absolutely tragic. I find myself wanting to reach out to anyone I’ve ever been mean to in my life This was by far the most incredibly detailed biography I have ever read but also one of the most fascinating books in general I’ve ever picked up. I have always been drawn to van Gogh’s art and also him as a person, but admittedly didn’t know much despite having gone to the museum dedicated to him twice. He is such a legendary figure but the real story, meticulously researched and written here, is absolutely tragic. I find myself wanting to reach out to anyone I’ve ever been mean to in my life to apologize and afford them the courtesy that was denied to Vincent. He was a social outcast, had zero employability, and depended on his brother Theo in every aspect of life (especially financially). He tried so, so hard—that’s my main takeaway. Vincent tried. He tried to please his family, he tried to get a job to support himself, he tried to make beautiful art, he tried to find a wife, he always tried. The authors’ note on his death is incredibly interesting; they suggest that it was the result of an accidental shooting by a local teenager who regularly tormented Vincent. While Vincent was certainly depressed, the authors argue that he never truly was suicidal and his death occurred because he merely welcomed it as it happened and told authorities he shot himself in order to protect the boy. If this is the truth (I believe it, but we’ll never truly know) I’m even more impressed and devastated by Vincent. I’m reminded of the Doctor Who episode in which a museum curator calls him the best painter of all time, a man who took his debilitating pain and created ecstatic beauty—I absolutely agree. ...more
3

Nov 21, 2019

“Trust in God who sees everything and knows everything,” said Vincent Van Gogh’s mother, Anna, “though His solution may be deeply sad.” This is a fitting summary of one of the saddest family chronicles imaginable. Nearly everyone in Vincent’s family ended life at least disappointed, if not depressed or insane. The glorious French sunlight that Vincent left us in his paintings covers a shadowy lifetime of seemingly unanswered prayers for harmony and wholeness in his family. The massive biography “Trust in God who sees everything and knows everything,” said Vincent Van Gogh’s mother, Anna, “though His solution may be deeply sad.” This is a fitting summary of one of the saddest family chronicles imaginable. Nearly everyone in Vincent’s family ended life at least disappointed, if not depressed or insane. The glorious French sunlight that Vincent left us in his paintings covers a shadowy lifetime of seemingly unanswered prayers for harmony and wholeness in his family. The massive biography by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith portrays Vincent’s life as a long plea for reconciliation—with his pastor father especially, but also with his stoic mother, his enabling brother, and with fellow artists and the Paris art scene that didn’t understand him or accept him. It’s hard to see exactly where and why this breakdown of the family occurred—the biographers endeavor to present the bare facts, without interpretation of what was “really” happening (though of course any biography is an interpretation, not just the facts). The authors put a negative spin on some aspects of Vincent’s growing-up years that seems to me based more on knowing the tragic outcome than on a neutral view on what was really said and done.

What we learn for certain from this accounting of Vincent’s life is that he was an extraordinarily difficult person to get along with. He struggled all of his adult life with deep feelings of inadequacy, failure, and regret. With hindsight, we see many places in his story where, with our better understanding of depression, interventions could have greatly helped him. But at the time, even near the end of Vincent’s life when he was admitted to asylums, no one knew what depression was. The best diagnosis doctors could offer was that Vincent suffered from a “latent epilepsy” that caused mental seizures, not physical, which led to his darkest periods of depression and rage. The only treatment doctors could prescribe was to keep him in a safe place where he wouldn’t be able to harm himself or others. And after a certain period of apparently good mental health, they saw no reason not to release him back to the world, where he would meet exactly the same situations that brought about the madness in the first place. It all seems sad and ludicrous now, which shows how much we’ve learned in the decades since (and suggests how much we still have to learn).

In those later years of Vincent’s life, when he was in and out of asylums, the biographers want to suggest that his family, and even his beloved brother Theo, were heartless and cold toward him, not reaching out in love and support. But after the hundreds of pages detailing how awful Vincent was to his family, again and again, the reader wants to throw his hands up and say, “Well, what were they supposed to do, though?” They had given Vincent chance after chance and seen him throw it back in their faces every time. I know that by that point in the biography, I was exasperated with him! And only in his late 30s, there was probably little thought that the end was so near. I can understand if the family assumed that this was a short period in his life where he was safely looked after by someone else in an asylum.

“Exasperation” is a key word for my feelings at a lot of points in this 900-page biography. I wanted to learn more about Vincent, beyond the legend, and I suppose this book met that need. But it is a long book. I don’t fear long books—Middlemarch is my favorite novel and Les Misérables, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, and other lengthy tomes are also favorites—but this book felt long. The writing is clear and precise, but something about the style felt ponderous and dull to me. All of it is “fine,” but none of it is “beautiful.”

The barrage of minutiae about Vincent’s day-to-day life really wore me down (one reason that I spent months reading this! There always seemed to be another book that I’d rather be reading, until I settled down and forced myself to just finish this one). Before reading the book, I thought that I liked him and his work. Having finished this biography, I find that he has now been thoroughly demystified for me. Getting to the end and finding that even his enduring legacy was in many ways manufactured by people who wanted or needed him to be famous—not that contemporaries saw his works and were instantly blown away by them (though I’m sure that’s some part of it, too)—was particularly disheartening. I would still like to read a collection of Vincent’s letters, because I sense that perhaps the biographers have given a negative reading to some of his writing; but I wish I felt more affection for him after learning this much about his life. It is at least nice to be able to place his work within a timeline and a story—it’s interesting to know, for example, that the sheaves of wheat painting I see at the Dallas Museum of Art is from the end of his life, when he was living in Auvers and still dreaming of recruiting Theo and his family to join him there. But for most people who want to learn about Vincent, I’d recommend a shorter book—probably one that focuses on his life and work from the period at Arles onward. That phase includes most of his best-known works, and what comes before is extremely repetitive and bleak. A shorter summary of his life up to that point will be sufficient for most readers.

I look forward to watching Loving Vincent and re-watching At Eternity’s Gate, which I think I’ll appreciate more this time. ...more
5

Nov 15, 2011

It's no wonder to me now that these truly gifted biographers won the Pulitzer Prize for their life of Jackson Pollock, assuming, of course, that their prose is as "intense" as the writing in their most recent collaboration.

After 300 pages, I haven't detected a sentence or a paragraph that fails to extend their narrative of Van Gogh's life (all 900 pages of it, less the 5000 pages of documentation that resides on-line) or enrich their characterization of this terribly difficult man, whose It's no wonder to me now that these truly gifted biographers won the Pulitzer Prize for their life of Jackson Pollock, assuming, of course, that their prose is as "intense" as the writing in their most recent collaboration.

After 300 pages, I haven't detected a sentence or a paragraph that fails to extend their narrative of Van Gogh's life (all 900 pages of it, less the 5000 pages of documentation that resides on-line) or enrich their characterization of this terribly difficult man, whose shifting realities, imperturable sense of entitlement and nearly intolerable temperament, alienated nearly everyone he ever engaged - even the most sympathetic.

I find their subject entirely fascinating, their treatment masterful, and their writing a model of splendid exposition.


11/22/11. After 600 pages, I find that their prose is as engaging - and as truly awe-inspiritng - as ever. I must also say that I find their meticulous and thorough descriptions of every repetition of Van Gogh's cycles of highly disturbed behavior, which destroyed every relationship he ever formed, a bit tiring. I understand that the authors aimed to document every moment of their subject's life, every hostile encounter of which there is even the least little scrap of evidence, and I applaud their epic industry. But I am beginning to skim the pages that present another instance of more of the same. Their book is as good a biography as can be written I suppose, and in some ways it rivals Kershaw's "Hitler." Each author's mastery of their craft doesn't impose an obligation on me that I savor every word, however, especially after I've tasted a particular dish twenty or thirty times over the last three days.

11/30/2011. I just finished this biography, and I can only give it a five-star rating. It is truly one of the most successful examples of the biographer's craft that I have encountered in my fifty years' devotion to that genre. I suspect that the authors will win another Pulitzer, perhaps a National Book Award, among many others, for their achievement. Nonetheless,in cases of products of such superlative craftsmanship as "Van Gogh: A Life" I often wonder if, for the sake of yet another perfect sentence or a brilliantly constructed paragraph, authors of non-fiction ignore or modify certain inconvenient facts. I still wonder about this particular life of Van Gogh, despite the excerpts of letters and memoirs that the authors aduce in every segment of their book, and despite the 5000 pages of further documentation that they provide on their website, www.vangoghbiography.com. I suppose I could allay my nagging concerns by tracking down the relevant footnotes, examining sources and evaluating corresponding sections of their biography. But I certainly don't intend to spend time in that way. And besides the world is full of art historians and subject matter experts (SME), who, no doubt, are probing, even as I write, every statement and conclusion that the authors committed to paper. If there's an unsupported claim in any of the book's 875 pages, these SMEs will certainly draw the world's attention to it. Highly recommended.
...more
2

Feb 17, 2012

This biography was certainly a massive undertaking by award-winning authors. It's well-researched and well-written all right. But the underlying view of Vincent as a man with basically a horrible personality who created his own problems seems short-sighted and unfair. Are the authors re-doing the Jackson Pollack book? This book made me go back to read Vincent's incomparable letters to Theo. There are other books that are superior in contemplating Vincent's mental and physical health This biography was certainly a massive undertaking by award-winning authors. It's well-researched and well-written all right. But the underlying view of Vincent as a man with basically a horrible personality who created his own problems seems short-sighted and unfair. Are the authors re-doing the Jackson Pollack book? This book made me go back to read Vincent's incomparable letters to Theo. There are other books that are superior in contemplating Vincent's mental and physical health issues/disabilities from a distance. These authors don't care; to them he was a spoiled (!) brat who took advantage of his friends and family. ...more
5

Jun 24, 2015

"Nós, que vivemos de pão, não somos em boa medida como o trigo, não somos, quando menos, obrigados a nos submeter a crescer como uma planta sem poder se mover, quero dizer, no rumo a que nos impele nossa imaginação, e a ser colhidos quando estamos maduros, como o próprio trigo?"

A história de um homem que viveu fiel a si próprio. E contou com trinta e sete anos e alguns meses de força para lutar contra todos os que pretendiam que ele se submetesse, sem exceção. Sem nenhuma exceção, e isso requer "Nós, que vivemos de pão, não somos em boa medida como o trigo, não somos, quando menos, obrigados a nos submeter a crescer como uma planta sem poder se mover, quero dizer, no rumo a que nos impele nossa imaginação, e a ser colhidos quando estamos maduros, como o próprio trigo?"

A história de um homem que viveu fiel a si próprio. E contou com trinta e sete anos e alguns meses de força para lutar contra todos os que pretendiam que ele se submetesse, sem exceção. Sem nenhuma exceção, e isso requer uma força extraordinária, explicada, contada, esmiuçada em mil e tantas páginas de sumo interesse, valor literário e pesquisa minuciosa, sem quase nenhum momento de tédio. Restou afinal uma grande emoção para o leitor, que pode ser resumida em suas próprias palavras, como acima:

"As ilusões podem desaparecer, mas o sublime permanece".
...more
5

Jun 02, 2016

EXTREMELY DETAILED !

So much information in this spectacular and in-depth bio on Van Gogh arbitrary and turbulent life .
And with that so much despair and sadness.

Van Gogh lived a life with many obstacles. His struggle with mental illness and depression . The demons that refused to leave his head . His rejection from family , lovers and other artist .But despite all of this he had a mutual love and admiration for his brother Theo . Theo was his "saving grace" in many ways .

Without doubt Van Gogh EXTREMELY DETAILED !

So much information in this spectacular and in-depth bio on Van Gogh arbitrary and turbulent life .
And with that so much despair and sadness.

Van Gogh lived a life with many obstacles. His struggle with mental illness and depression . The demons that refused to leave his head . His rejection from family , lovers and other artist .But despite all of this he had a mutual love and admiration for his brother Theo . Theo was his "saving grace" in many ways .

Without doubt Van Gogh was a artistic genius. And attached to this gift was that of a man who had limited social skills . I personally think he was misunderstood because of his erratic and stand off personality .Perhaps Van Gogh suffered from several Personalty Disorders ?

This book is filled with pictures of some of his greatest work . Each painting is a book . Each painting tells a story without a single word being written . That is the brilliancy and uniqueness than Van Gogh held. . He was a painter and a writer The only difference was he used a canvas to express his words . Much of his inspiration came from his love of reading . His mind would go off into another dimension . Creating work and techniques that helped him in his creative journey .

Sadly Van Gogh life ended tragically and short . His manner of death still unclear , with many new theories being uncovered . And with much controversy

Naifeh and Smith open a panoramic view of a monumental life . The writing is captivating and capture the true essence of a masterpiece .

Van Gogh words still haunt me to this day . "I put my heart and soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process". ...more
5

Nov 20, 2011

This is a massive and wonderful book about an amazing person. I've read several books about Vincent, both fiction and non-fiction and I thought I knew a lot about Vincent's life, but Naifeh and Smith provide a lot more information than any of the others I've read and do it well.

Having recently read Carol Wallace's Leaving Van Gogh with Goodread's Art Lovers group, I must say that I think her book should be banned for using real people in a fiction that is so far from the known facts.

Naifeh and This is a massive and wonderful book about an amazing person. I've read several books about Vincent, both fiction and non-fiction and I thought I knew a lot about Vincent's life, but Naifeh and Smith provide a lot more information than any of the others I've read and do it well.

Having recently read Carol Wallace's Leaving Van Gogh with Goodread's Art Lovers group, I must say that I think her book should be banned for using real people in a fiction that is so far from the known facts.

Naifeh and White make a thoroughly convincing case for Vincent's illness having been temporal lobe epilepsy. In fact, that was the diagnosis at the hospital in Arles where he was first treated for his mental illness after he mutilated his ear. Why so many other theories about his illness clouded the issue is unclear to me, when the original diagnosis and all his symptoms pointed directly to temporal lobe epilepsy.

And finally, the short discussion about Vincent's death and why the authors do not believe it was a suicide, is also totally convincing. Reading their assertions and the reasons for them (both pertaining to the diagnosis of his illness and the cause of his death) leaves no room for any other theory, as far as I'm concerned. If for no other reason, the fact that all the painting gear that he had taken with him that day as well as the revolver that he was shot with were never found would point to it NOT being a suicide. Poor wonderful, talented, brilliant Vincent.

This is an essential book for anyone who is truly interested in Vincent van Gogh. ...more
4

Jan 31, 2015

This is a compelling, tragic biography of the great 19th century Dutch artist whose life was deeply troubled, despite his creative gifts and intellectual power. It is to the writers' deep credit that despite the unbending pattern of extreme behavior and inevitable disappointment and failure that dominates the life recounted here over 800 pages, the telling firmly holds your attention.

Vincent was the eldest of six children. His father was a Protestant minister who served in a backwater parish, This is a compelling, tragic biography of the great 19th century Dutch artist whose life was deeply troubled, despite his creative gifts and intellectual power. It is to the writers' deep credit that despite the unbending pattern of extreme behavior and inevitable disappointment and failure that dominates the life recounted here over 800 pages, the telling firmly holds your attention.

Vincent was the eldest of six children. His father was a Protestant minister who served in a backwater parish, surrounded largely by Catholic families. He was not a success but was a dominating figure in his parish and in his homestead. His wife was staunchly religious, too. So was the family and Vincent not the least among them. But as with everything, all his interests and passions, Vincent is not conventionally religious. He is impulsive, fanatical in his pursuits (searching for birds nests, walking, literature, art and faith). He will walk miles and miles at a time, regardless of weather. He will sketch through the night and into the morning. He will copy poems, sermons, and prose with obsessive zeal, filling notebooks and letters with his copying. He was gifted to a degree that couldn’t help but guarantee success in a chosen field, but cursed with a personality disorder that was guaranteed to undermine any endeavor. He was impatient, moody, explosive of temper.

Van Gogh had a lifelong nostalgia for a moment of imagined happiness in home and hearth and spent the twenty years between his teens and death at 37 working to recreate that moment—to restore his family in reality or by proxy with adopted families, to form a nuclear family of sorts with his brother Theo, to create a commune of like-minded artists. Based in fantasy and undermined by his oppressive intensity, failure was inevitable and often. As a teen, Vincent, already too much for his proper but loving parents, was sent off to work for his uncle’s art business. His passion and compulsive curiosity opened the window of brief success before his personality slammed it shut. The family demonstrated patience but soon, like a corrupt priest, he was shifted from office to office within the international company, trying to find a spot where he could do little or no damage to business and colleagues.

In England he got involved with evangelical sects and for a few years pursued a self-constructed religious study hoping to become a minister or missionary. He betook himself to a bleak coal mining region to serve but his refusal to see barriers, personal or otherwise, went beyond off-putting, created resentment and provoked ridicule. The propensity to attract public ridicule in response to his appearance and behavior would shadow the remainder of his days.

In his twenties he returned to art, but not as a seller, as a creator. His mother had taught him to draw and he took it up with the same tireless drive that he did everything else. What was a hobby, illustrating letters with drawings of places he had visited or lived, became his calling. The imaginative talent was there, and there in spades. Art would rescue a tragic life that might well have been an anonymous, meaningless nightmare. It couldn’t rescue him from the tragedy, but his artistic legacy would prove to be one of the century’s great individual contributions to world culture.

His brother Theo had followed him into the family business but had done so successfully. The two would have a fraught relationship, intensely close (even when at a distance). Briefly they lived together in Paris for some months, an event that nearly killed the younger but frailer Theo. (In the end, the brothers died a year apart; Vincent violently, perhaps self-inflicted, perhaps in an accidental shooting by local youths, Theo from disease and madness. The latter, to borrow a line, didn’t just run in the family it galloped.) Through connections with Theo and his uncle, Vincent got access to the world of Dutch and French artists, and to the very limited amount of formal training he would get. He was known in that small, small world, but his work wasn’t noticed (or even shown or sold) until the very end of his life. Naifeh and Smith do a fantastic job of tracking the artist’s development, his artistic vision and values, and how he compensated through genius and endless effort for his lack of training. The book is well-illustrated (though you want more) and the descriptions of the work are masterful. Van Gogh The Life is a fantastic accomplishment but, because of the tragedy, a challenging read. ...more
4

Apr 13, 2012

ask me anythin about vincent van gogh. go ahead, ask me. after reading 800 plus pages of this amazing biography, I feel like a world expert. Meticulously researched, from his birth, childhood, and adult life, and yet written in a very readable style that doesn't bog you down as many biographies can do, this is truly an amazing book. so much of what I thought I knew about van gogh was totally wrong. he exhibited signs of mental illness from a very young age, perhaps aspergers, compulsive ask me anythin about vincent van gogh. go ahead, ask me. after reading 800 plus pages of this amazing biography, I feel like a world expert. Meticulously researched, from his birth, childhood, and adult life, and yet written in a very readable style that doesn't bog you down as many biographies can do, this is truly an amazing book. so much of what I thought I knew about van gogh was totally wrong. he exhibited signs of mental illness from a very young age, perhaps aspergers, compulsive obsessive, lots of anger management issues, and schitzophrenia(sp)as he grew into manhood. they didn't say as much, but reading the descriptions of his behavior, it sounded textbook. add to that an obsession with prostitutes that lead to a horrible case of syphyllis for which there really wasn't an effective treatment at that time, and his progressive madness was guarenteed. I've always love his paintings, but I know now that if I had ever met him I would have punched him in the nose at the very least. He was a very unpleasent man, outspoken and arguementative, with bizarre behavior, delusions and totally unable to deal with life in any normal way. his poor brother theo supported him his whole life, and also had a horrible case of syphyllis, which attacked his body with even more ferocity than vincent. he died 6 months after vincents death, insane and raving in an asylum. the rest of the family didn't fare much better. a brother commited suicide, and a sister also died in an asylum , no sexual disease there though. I think being raised in a rigid christion home-his father was a pastor and his mother was more concerned with family appearances and reputation than the emotional needs of a very delicate son-was just more fuel for his breakdown. but I think he was doomed from the start, no amount of nurturing could have helped. maybe with some of todays medicines, but then would his painting have blossomed? we can only guess. I really enjoyed this book, but it takes some time to get through it. ...more
3

Dec 01, 2011

I've read a good amount of books regarding van Gogh, including a condensed book of his prolific correspondence, and a few regarding his time in Arles with and without Gauguin.
I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I felt the viewpoint was slanted and biased to a negative perspective regarding a complicated man. Van Gogh was flawed, like any other man; he was a man misunderstood in his time. I suppose you could read any number of his letters and decide he was "delusional" or "ungrateful" I've read a good amount of books regarding van Gogh, including a condensed book of his prolific correspondence, and a few regarding his time in Arles with and without Gauguin.
I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I felt the viewpoint was slanted and biased to a negative perspective regarding a complicated man. Van Gogh was flawed, like any other man; he was a man misunderstood in his time. I suppose you could read any number of his letters and decide he was "delusional" or "ungrateful" and "unappreciative" with what he was given in life. At the same time, you would see a man who perceived the world beyond what most men of his time saw. An art that was both charged with emotional perspective and limitless in its communication. Full of color; full of life; full of expressing what's inside of us through the mundane and simple objects of our world.
I choose to think that Vincent was a genius as an artist. I am always inspired by his interpretation of the world and the art he created and I truly believe that had he been creating his masterpieces 30 years later he would have been seen in a truly different light by many of his peers. How many other artists can we say were so driven? so difficult? Unfortunately the almost 900 pages of this book were mostly negative and painted Vincent in a pitiful light and without much respect for the difficulties he managed to overcome in his life.
I also found the research regarding the other artists discussed in the book, i.e. Gauguin and Bernard was not very complete. ...more
5

Sep 23, 2016

I was blown away by this book. Not only for its deeply researched detail, but because it does what a superior biography should do, it humanizes it's subject and makes the reader care about them.
This is no easy feat with a character like Vincent Van Gogh.
Through letters with his brother Theo, we come to learn of Vincent's petty jealousies and insecurities, his living off his brother's money, his violent temper, and a host of other unlikeable traits.
Yet by the end of this book, I found it I was blown away by this book. Not only for its deeply researched detail, but because it does what a superior biography should do, it humanizes it's subject and makes the reader care about them.
This is no easy feat with a character like Vincent Van Gogh.
Through letters with his brother Theo, we come to learn of Vincent's petty jealousies and insecurities, his living off his brother's money, his violent temper, and a host of other unlikeable traits.
Yet by the end of this book, I found it really difficult not to feel immense sadness for him. He was a man who saw the world in a way that few others did. When those images collided with reality, it was only going to end badly. He often chose to ignore realities and instead plunge headlong into idealized scenarios that were never going to come true. This would only deepen his alienation.
For as much as he lived off his brother, he also loved him deeply and was profoundly concerned that he was driving his brother to an early grave.
The length notwithstanding, this is not an easy book to read. When you turn the last page you may feel the immense sadness that I felt for this troubled but brilliant individual. You should read it all the same.
...more
4

Sep 30, 2018

عزيزي فنيست فان جوخ المتوفى، ليس عليك أن تبقى حزينا طوال لوحاتك الفنية، عندما بدأت ألمس لوحاتك بدوت باردة، الحزن يطفو فيكَ. رسائل الانتحار التي طافت بك. كتاب فان جوخ جميل جداً يجمع لنا صراعات فان جوخ
5

Aug 12, 2019

I had to read this long, tortuously researched book slowly, bolstering it between lighter works. The strange, haunted genius that Naifeh and Smith paint in their 950 pages aroused in me empathy, pain, sometimes disgust, sometimes wonder. My mind wandered, perhaps with more understanding, to others I have known in life and in books who had in some slight way some of the characteristics of Vincent and his brother Theo. This is a book to be remembered, a life to weep over, a spark to add new I had to read this long, tortuously researched book slowly, bolstering it between lighter works. The strange, haunted genius that Naifeh and Smith paint in their 950 pages aroused in me empathy, pain, sometimes disgust, sometimes wonder. My mind wandered, perhaps with more understanding, to others I have known in life and in books who had in some slight way some of the characteristics of Vincent and his brother Theo. This is a book to be remembered, a life to weep over, a spark to add new dimensions to the art. It would be hard to come away from it unchanged. ...more
5

Feb 07, 2015

"Vincent was 'a dreamer, a fanatical believer, a devourer of beautiful utopias, living on ideas and dreams.'" -- from "Van Gogh: The Life"

First let me say that despite the high rating, this book is not for the slacker. With 950-plus pages, it requires a real commitment of time and energy. This is a book that can leave you feeling exhausted, wishing many times that it would soon be over and then just as soon as you finish, thinking you should begin it all again to gather all the keen insights you "Vincent was 'a dreamer, a fanatical believer, a devourer of beautiful utopias, living on ideas and dreams.'" -- from "Van Gogh: The Life"

First let me say that despite the high rating, this book is not for the slacker. With 950-plus pages, it requires a real commitment of time and energy. This is a book that can leave you feeling exhausted, wishing many times that it would soon be over and then just as soon as you finish, thinking you should begin it all again to gather all the keen insights you missed the first time around.

The book itself took 10 years to write, note the authors, and it shows. Once done, any reader would feel like he or she has gained some real insight into the life and struggles of Van Gogh, as well as a better understanding of the challenges he faced. Among those were an extremely sensitive nature, guilt over the inability to support himself, an extreme passion for his work, an inability to separate out his thoughts (inner world) from reality, and nonconvulsive (or latent) epilepsy.

To have succeeded in producing such beautiful artwork, given those conditions, is pretty amazing. In fact, it's likely that art saved Van Gogh, despite his short life. The book is probably most known for, and most controversial regarding, its theory behind how Van Gogh died. The authors suggest, and provide plenty of evidence for, the theory that Vincent was accidentally shot and did not commit suicide. There's also some interesting information on the incident in which he attempted to cut off his ear and sent it to a brothel.

The authors also provide a lot of insight into Van Gogh's paintings. Although there are many examples, both color and black and white within the book, most readers will find themselves turning again and again to their art books or the Internet to seek out images of his paintings not shown.

For academics, and others who would like to explore certain nuances, there is also a website (VanGoghBiography.com) where one can find more than 5,000 pages of notes for the book (not included among the 900 pages of actual text). Whew!

Most of all, what should be said about this book is that it will give any reader a new level of understanding, sympathy, and appreciation for Van Gogh's work and life. Looking at his paintings will never be the same again after having read this book.

...more
5

Aug 17, 2016

The writers had a wealth of materials to draw from for this comprehensive biography, including the years of correspondence between Vincent and his brother Theo and numerous interviews with people who were knew or were aware of Vincent. This book is a commitment at 893 pages and it took me a couple of weeks of careful reading to finish it. An additional 6,000 pages worth of footnotes and source materials are available on the authors' website: http://vangoghbiography.com/

I must admit that I grew The writers had a wealth of materials to draw from for this comprehensive biography, including the years of correspondence between Vincent and his brother Theo and numerous interviews with people who were knew or were aware of Vincent. This book is a commitment at 893 pages and it took me a couple of weeks of careful reading to finish it. An additional 6,000 pages worth of footnotes and source materials are available on the authors' website: http://vangoghbiography.com/

I must admit that I grew up with the Don McLean song "Vincent" and its poignant lyrics and have held a romanticized view of Vincent (which is the way he always signed his paintings). For the first three quarters of this book I was somewhat taken aback by my conflicted feelings for the artist as he grew up dealing with physical and psychological issues. At first his whole family did try to help him find his way, but his difficulties were daunting and for most of his adult life his brother Theo supported him for every expense. Vincent only sold one painting during his lifetime and that was near the end of it. From the testimony of people who knew Vincent or tried to know him I became sympathetic to their rejection.

By the last years of his life as he furiously tried to bring his many ideas to life on canvas I again saw the genius, the pathos and felt a new appreciation for his art. I also hoped I learned a lesson about judging anyone by the face they show to the world, not knowing of their struggles and the inner beauty we all have.

The authors have a theory about his death that has proved controversial. After reading what they said and other viewpoints on his death, I am inclined to agree with them. Although Vincent claimed to have said he shot himself, the description of the bullet wound does not support a self-inflicted wound. (Doctors then and now agree on that.) I agree with the authors that it may have been the result of an accidental shooting and because Vincent had struggled so much he accepted his pending death without a fight.

Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the man who produced such beautiful art. ...more
4

Jan 02, 2012

Van Gogh: The Life by Stephen Naifeh and Grogory White Smith was well written and moved along quite rapidly for such an exhaustive study. I was impressed with the voluminous correspondence between Van Gogh and his family in general and his brother, Theo,in particular. Because I am a nature lover and hiker, Van Gogh's love of nature and devotion to taking his easal into the heath attracted me to his paintings and I have since been studying and enjoying them. In addition, while many artists did Van Gogh: The Life by Stephen Naifeh and Grogory White Smith was well written and moved along quite rapidly for such an exhaustive study. I was impressed with the voluminous correspondence between Van Gogh and his family in general and his brother, Theo,in particular. Because I am a nature lover and hiker, Van Gogh's love of nature and devotion to taking his easal into the heath attracted me to his paintings and I have since been studying and enjoying them. In addition, while many artists did their works in studio with the help of assistnts, Vincent went out- of- doors alone to capture the reality of nature and used real live models of poor people to capture their essence. Two of my favorites are: Peach Tree in Blossom and The Potato Eaters and the story behind each. Finally, it is fascinating how much of his tortured life was put into his paintings of th very poor.There was nothing phony about his works and he paid the price for his great contributions to all of us. ...more

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