The Amazon page for my ‘Conversations with Vincent Van Gogh’ is presently fortunate enough to have only five star reviews. (Always a dangerous observation.)
Here are three of them, to give you a sense of the book; followed by a ‘Brief (but not shallow) Life of Vincent’.
‘I loved this book. Simon Parke manages the impossible here – in one slim volume, the figure of van Gogh in all its messy, glorious humanity comes alive.
While Parke stands back, asks intelligent and sensitive questions, offers an occasional wry comment, and simply listens, the painter speaks about his family, art, beauty, love, suffering, God – in short, anything and everything that matters in life.
The story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, in equal measures. But even if you thought that you knew the story, it’s the man behind the myth that we get to know and love.
It left me greedy for more and I wanted to be reckless enough to buy the new Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh (Thames & Hudson, in 6vol), but at £395, common restraint prevailed.
Buy this instead, it’s a little gem!’ (MF)
‘I’ve always been a big fan of Van Gogh’s paintings but after going to the recent exhibition in London, that featured many of his letters, I wanted to find out more about his words. Luckily I came across this wonderful book that not only features his letters but builds upon their contents in an honest and thought provoking way. Simon Parke has really managed to bring Vincent to life and shines a light on the complexities of a brilliant mind. The book warms the heart and challenges the brain and I would recommend this book not only to fans of Vincent who want to know more, but to those who are interested in delving into the human condition as a whole.’ (JJ)
‘Having enjoyed this book myself, I bought the hard back for a friend for her Birthday, unknown to me she had just been to a Van Gogh exhibition in London and had been reading the letters. My friend received the book with delight and has written to me since to say how, enjoyable, educational and interesting it is and now her children are also reading it.’ (Bookworm)
And now some biography.
Vincent shot himself at the age of 37, probably without having sold a picture.
His brother Theo said he was his own enemy, and this was true; but he also came from nowhere in the learning of his craft, and in death, took the art world by storm.
Born to a dour protestant pastor and emotionally cold mother, Vincent likened himself to a young sapling struck too soon by frost. His early desire to be a Christian missionary faded, as he turned to drawing to make something of his life.
His highest ambition in his twenties and early thirties was to be a book illustrator. He lived in relative poverty, supported financially by his brother Theo, who worked for the same art dealers who had sacked Vincent.
His life was nomadic, taking in the Hague, London, Brussels, Antwerp, Paris, Arles and Auvers-Sur-Oise. It also included a few months in a mental asylum at St Remy, after he had cut off his ear and delivered it to his favourite prostitute.
His love life was a series of disasters, denying him the family he so desired and his pipe was a refuge, as often was alcohol which he said ‘stuns the pain.’ In Paris, he rubbed shoulders with Seurat, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec, but was never regarded as a talent to watch.
It was only when he travelled south to the sunshine of Arles that he really came alive, and almost all his famous paintings were produced in the last year of his life here, and then in St Remy and Auvers.
His idea of an artistic community in the Yellow House with Gaughin did not work out, foundering on the rocks of incompatible personalities.
But his emergence as a colourist was startling. ‘I dream of painting and then I paint my dream,’ he said. ‘I experience a moment of frightening clarity when nature is beautiful.’
Vincent – as he always signed himself, never calling himself ‘Van Gogh’ – had just received his first good review when he shot himself, dying two days later in Theo’s arms.
As Theo said, he was his own enemy; though in death a friend to millions beneath each starry night.