Archive for category Subject: Van Gogh

Vincent’s Books || Mariella Guzzoni

Heer Van Gogh didn’t just paint and write letters, he read widely as well, you know. “I have a more or less irresistible passion for books”.

The primary source for this new approach to the artist is Vincent’s letters, his own eloquent commentary on his personal life and creative processes. Sometimes, you wonder whether he wasn’t maybe just a little too self-analytical. Those to his brother alone mention some 200 authors and he devoured fiction as well as monographs, biographies and museum guides. You might wonder how he found time to paint!

Do we need yet another angle on the life of someone we should really approach through their own output? Van Gogh was, after all, a painter, not a literary critic. Yes, his letters certainly can inform our view of his paintings and, it could be argued, his interpretation of what he read fed into his own work. However, an account of his reading does appear to be maybe just a little of one for the completists.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. An artist’s influences are certainly important and having Van Gogh’s own accounts of what he saw and how he reacted to it, especially when he writes as eloquently as he does, is undoubtedly valuable, maybe even fascinating.

One problem I encountered was the three-digit numbers that appear in square brackets in the text. Much digging in the supplementary material suggests that these are a reference to the archive of Vincent’s letters, but this is not explicitly stated. A note at the beginning would have been helpful.

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Vincent Van Gogh: a life in letters || Nienke Bakker, Leo Jansen & Hans Luitjen

You can’t have too much Van Gogh, can you? Can you? Let’s leave that there and acknowledge that, for a man as complex as Vincent, his own words add considerably to our understanding of his work. As well as simply talking about his life, he was eloquent on the creative process itself. Artists, who mainly think visually, do not often write well – frequently either too much or too little, but our man was a deep thinker and a good analyst. Perhaps that was his trouble.

Even at over 400 pages, this is only a selection, but the editors (who are the team behind the full 6 volume edition of the letters for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam) have been careful to make it representative. They also include manuscript reproductions as well as sketches and paintings that make this relevant to any study of Van Gogh’s art which is, after all, what we should be most interested in. The result is immediately accessible for anyone with maybe only a passing interest – specialists will probably have sought out the full canon anyway.

Sensibly, the arrangement is chronological, but also related to location, so that a connection with the artist’s often complex living arrangements is possible. Any temptation to try to introduce themes is sensibly avoided. Each section is introduced with a summary of that stage of Van Gogh’s life, his relationships and where he was in his artistic development. Once again, the more general reader is catered for and no detailed background knowledge is assumed.

The result is an effective and readable autobiography raisonné which is just learned enough to be authoritative without being indigestible for the audience it’s aimed at.

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Hockney/Van Gogh – the joy of nature

Everybody wants a Hockney, don’t they? This book accompanies an exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and is, it should be said, an excellent alternative for those who can’t make it to the show itself. The number and quality of the illustrations, mostly Hockneys, is substantial and the reproduction well up to the standard you would expect from such an august institution. There is also a useful introductory essay that sets the two artists’ visions in context.

Given all the above, and especially the predomination of work by Hockney, the question has to be asked: would you want it? There are plenty of excellent Hockney collections about, so does the addition of a few Van Goghs (he also being hardly thin on the publication ground) and a rationalisation of putting together two artists who, arguably, share little beyond a fascination with nature, bring anything to the party?

I’m not honestly sure I’d want to part with just shy of twenty-five quid unless it was as a souvenir of a visit, which rather flies in the face of what I said earlier about in being a good substitute for such. For all that, it’s well presented and nicely done and, you might think, worth it for that alone.

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In 50 Works – Van Gogh/Matisse || John Cauman

There’s no shortage of books on the Old Masters, from scholarly interpretations to coffee-table collections of works.

Think of these, therefore, as manageable and affordable primers that contain enough biographical and analytical information to satisfy without overwhelming and which ultimately stand or fall on the curatorial ability of the author – to put it simply, how good is he at making a truly representative selection of the artist’s work?

There’s no definite answer to that question, as long as styles and chronology are respected (it’s worth noting that the illustrations appear in date order and, indeed, are dated). Your own favourites may be omitted, potentially leaving you shouting at the page. On the other hand, sometimes someone else’s view can lend perspective to your own – or maybe you just want the heavy lifting done for you.

However, it does work and, while not quite at pocket-money prices, these are genuinely good value and sit nicely in what is – let’s not be shy about this – a crowded market.

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Van Gogh in Acrylics (Ready to Paint) || Michael Sanders

This is the second in the Ready to Paint The Masters series that offers you the chance to emulate the greats in a medium that wasn’t available to them. I have to admit that I’m stumped as to why you would want to and there’s no help in the introduction here. Michael is right when he says that copying other work is/was the traditional way to learn and it’s certainly a handy way of measuring your progress, but I’m not sure how much satisfaction it will give you unless you’re a fan of rote learning and prepared for quite a lot of hard slog before you get to express your own creativity.

However, if your boat needs floating and you think a few Van Goghs will get it off the slipway, this is the book for you.

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