I know this blog is supposed to be about Marcel Proust, but March 30th is Vincent van Gogh’s birthday (he was born in 1853) so this post is in honor of that event.
The Yellow House:
van Gogh, Gauguin,
and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles
By Martin Gayford
Knowing of my love for and reverence of Vincent van Gogh, my sister gave me this book: The Yellow House: van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles. She said she “just happened to see it” at a bookstore, knew I’d like it, and got it. It was a Christmas present, and was certainly an excellent present to receive.
It’s a really well-researched and well-written book. The author seems to have read every letter, every newspaper and book, every piece of paper related to these two artists and the place, seen every painting and drawing and every actual place in and around Arles- and brings it all together in a coherent, compelling and moving account. If it is possible to divine what someone was thinking at a certain time based on all the above, this author has done it.
Vincent van Gogh went to Arles, France because he felt it would give him the kind of light he needed for his paintings, the kind he thought he saw in Japanese prints, which were all the rage at this time. He also wanted to establish an artist’s colony there, and the first (and only) person he could persuade to move there with him (financed by Vincent’s brother Theo, of course) was Paul Gauguin. If there was a worse choice to be made, I can’t think of one. Their lifestyles were different, their painting styles were different, their values were different- what they had in common was that they painted. And paint they did; van Gogh’s output was astonishing, Gauguin’s less so. They also drank, visited whorehouses, took day trips, and, increasingly, got on each other’s nerves. At the end of the nine weeks, Vincent cut off all or part (reports differ) of his ear and presented it to his favorite prostitute. I blame Gauguin, who left town before Vincent even awoke from the dead faint he was in after the fit of madness. But then, I’m biased.
Great book. Read it if at all possible, on this, the anniversary of Vincent’s birth, or at any time.
I have another post for this event, here.