Book review: Van Gogh

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“My aim in life is to make pictures and drawings, as many and as well as I can. Then, at the end of my life, I hope to pass away, looking back with love and tender regret, and thinking, ‘Oh, the pictures I might have made!’”

There were many things I didn’t know about Vincent Van Gogh when I started reading the bio Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. I only knew that he cut off his ear and killed himself before ever being recognized as the artist we now know him to be. But this bio, this 900-page, heavy-to-hold but pleasant-to-carry bio, taught me so much, not only about Vincent himself but about art as well. (Also, it may not have been a suicide at all! Read the book for more on that.)

One of the many things I learned about Van Gogh was that he loved to read. He said, “I read in order to meditate.” He loved Dickens and Shakespeare and read them both often. In fact, he reread The Haunted Man by Dickens every year at Christmas. One of my annual holiday traditions is to reread A Christmas Carol, so I guess we have that in common.
Another thing we have in common is a love of bookstores. On the subject, he said: “I invent some errand to go there whenever possible. They always remind me that there are good things in the world.”
I couldn’t agree more.

While it’s true that Vincent was at times difficult and even unlikable, he was also incredibly talented and a true artist in every sense of the word. When I finished reading this bio I felt like I knew the real Van Gogh and I became more interested in his art. The book is a commitment, to say the least. But if you’re interested in learning more about an often misunderstood artist, I can’t imagine that there is another book out there that would do a better job than Van Gogh: The Life.

“It must be good to die in the knowledge that one has done some truthful work and to know that, as a result, one will live on in the memory of at least a few.”

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