Van Gogh: The Life

Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith

Van Gogh: The Life

Vincent van Gogh created some of the best loved - and most expensive - works of art ever made, from the early The Potato Eaters to his late masterpieces Sunflowers and The Starry Night. He had worked as an art dealer, a missionary and as a teacher in England, and only in his late twenties did he begin a life that would be fundamental in shaping modern art. But when he died in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890 at the age of thirty-seven he was largely unknown. Written with the cooperation of the Van Gogh Museum, Pulitzer-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith recreate his extraordinary life, and the inside of his troubled mind, like never before - and they put forward an explosive new theory challenging the widespread belief that Van Gogh took his own life. Drawing for the first time on all of his (and his family's) extensive letters, which offer exquisite glimpses into his thoughts and feelings, this aims to be the definitive portrait of one of the world's cultural giants. 3.8 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
Van Gogh: The Life

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Art, Architecture & Photography, Biography
Format Hardback
Pages 912
RRP £30.00
Date of Publication October 2011
ISBN 978-1846680106
Publisher Profile
 

Vincent van Gogh created some of the best loved - and most expensive - works of art ever made, from the early The Potato Eaters to his late masterpieces Sunflowers and The Starry Night. He had worked as an art dealer, a missionary and as a teacher in England, and only in his late twenties did he begin a life that would be fundamental in shaping modern art. But when he died in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890 at the age of thirty-seven he was largely unknown. Written with the cooperation of the Van Gogh Museum, Pulitzer-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith recreate his extraordinary life, and the inside of his troubled mind, like never before - and they put forward an explosive new theory challenging the widespread belief that Van Gogh took his own life. Drawing for the first time on all of his (and his family's) extensive letters, which offer exquisite glimpses into his thoughts and feelings, this aims to be the definitive portrait of one of the world's cultural giants.

Download an extract of the book | New York Times

Reviews

The New York Times

Michiko Kakutani

Magisterial … Whereas the authors’ 1989 biography of Jackson Pollock, which inexplicably won the Pulitzer Prize, used reductive Freudianism to try to explain his art, this volume does its best to avoid drawing simplistic connections between van Gogh’s galvanic work and his emotional difficulties ... Instead, Mr. Smith and Mr. Naifeh diligently examine the development of his ideas, his techniques, his startling ability to inhale lessons from other painters and transform their innovations into his own.

20/10/2011

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The Los Angeles Times

Suzanne Muchnic

Packed with information about Van Gogh's rotten teeth, spending sprees and children he may have fathered as well as the evolution of his brushwork and palette, this book may indeed be "the life" of Van Gogh. Yet the story is not complete. "No one knows" is the phrase leading into the authors' investigations of why the artist left Paris for Arles in February 1888 and why he cut off part of his ear ... their treatment of the mystery [around his death] seems to be as concerned with selling books as with getting at the truth. All their work considered, though, these are minor flaws in a sweepingly authoritative, astonishingly textured book.

20/11/2011

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The Economist

The Economist

Enormous and engrossing ... The book describes a lonely, bad tempered alcoholic, a syphilitic who liked to bite the hands that fed him. It in no way devalues the quality of the painting, of course, but this portrait by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, two prolific authors who seem to like writing about drunken artists (Jackson Pollock was an earlier subject) demolishes any romance that still attaches to the artist’s life.

05/11/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Martin Herbert

[An] engrossing but in some ways fiercely old-fashioned book. At once a model of scholarship and an emotive, pacy chunk of hagiography, Van Gogh: The Life swallows archives whole to argue that the tempestuous, tragic, romantic figure of the artist we always had was the correct one, the main difference being that his exit was probably in keeping with the majority of his terrible, yet impossibly fruitful, three-and-a-half decades on earth: beyond his control.

28/10/2011

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The Sunday Times

Michael Prodger

Their belt-and-braces book is in every sense monumental: it was 10 years in the making, and Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith even devised special software to cross-search their database of 100,000 digital notecards. Oh, and they had a team of eight researchers and 18 translators. The Van Gogh who emerges from this extraordinary marshalling of resources is, therefore, a far more comprehensive figure than earlier versions. He is not, though, a substantially different one ... Where Naifeh and White’s book does succeed is in filling out Van Gogh before he became a painter. He took up art properly only in his last decade; before that, the authors show, his life was a story of two things — failure and alienating everyone who tried to help.

30/10/2011

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The Sunday Telegraph

Martin Gayford

The stress on Vincent’s unlikeability and unpleasant behaviour sometimes gives the impression that, as sometimes happens to biographers, they came to dislike their subject. Curiously, they are negative on occasion about Vincent’s most unassailable strength: his talent. “Weak draughtsmanship” is a curious criticism of one of the greatest masters of drawing who ever lived.

15/11/2011

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The New York Times

Deborah Solomon

Negatively skewed ... The authors seldom slow the rush of facts to offer analysis or raise even the most basic questions ... For all its put-downs and grating cynicism, the book is highly readable and lavishes welcome attention on van Gogh’s lesser-known middle period.

25/11/2011

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