VAN GOGH: His Life and His Art by David Sweetman

VAN GOGH: His Life and His Art

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lucid, balanced biography of Vincent van Gogh that strips the artist of myth--and grounds him firmly in the art and culture of the late 19th century. Sweetman (a writer and producer of art series for the BBC) masterfully synthesizes the evolving scholarship that has revised the long-held image of van Gogh as an ""isolated, rejected prophet of modern art"" whose pictures mirrored an unhinged mind. ""Whatever his own sufferings,"" Sweetman argues, ""gloom and depression are not primary hallmarks of his work."" This thorough, fact-anchored account logically plots the distinct paths of van Gogh's life and art. ""To discover the troth,"" the author looks to the artist's own words--in the over 670 amazing letters written mostly to his brother Theo. Born in 1853 into a Dutch protestant clergyman's family, van Gogh abandoned a position in a leading European gallery to become a minister, ""only surrendering to art"" as ""the sole release from the misery and depression into which he had stumbled."" He emerges here as a driven, often troubled individual but a diligent, purposeful artist influenced, in large part, by Millet and Japanese prints. In 1885, he joined Theo (an art dealer) in Paris, where he met Toulouse-Lautrec, Emile Bernard, and Paul Signac and began using color ""with a richness of hue bordering on the violent."" In July 1890, van Gogh shot himself in the chest in what, Sweetman explains, ""might have been a desperate gesture but not necessarily the final act."" Taking full measure of van Gogh and his apotheosis as the most popular artist of our time, Sweetman's understated study makes the artist's story of courage and hard-won genius particularly moving. (Illustrations, some seen--including 16 color plates--offer a fine though limited sampling of van Gogh's art.)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Crown