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Letters of Vincent van Gogh by Mark Roskill
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Letters of Vincent van Gogh (edition 2008)

by Mark Roskill (Editor)

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1,018415,469 (4.2)8
'Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.'Few artists' letters are as self-revelatory as Vincent Van Gogh's, and the selection included here, spanning the whole of his artistic career, sheds light on every facet of the life and work of this complex and tortured man. Engaging candidly and movingly with his religious struggles, his ill-fated search for love, his attacks of mental illness and his intense relationship with his brother Theo, the letters contradict the popular image of Van Gogh as an anti-social madman and a martyr to art, showing instead that he was capable of great emotional and spiritual depths. Above all, they stand as an intense personal narrative of artistic development and a unique account of the process of creation. The letters are linked by explanatory biographical passages, revealing Van Gogh's inner journey as well as the outer facts of his life. This edition includes the drawings that originally illustrated the letters.… (more)
Member:stephalepsy
Title:Letters of Vincent van Gogh
Authors:Mark Roskill (Editor)
Info:Touchstone (2008), Edition: Illustrated, 352 pages
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The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh by Vincent van Gogh

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Showing 4 of 4
This generous selection of letters not only gives insight into Van Gogh’s aims and values as an artist, but stands as the literary record of a magnificent human soul. I was fascinated to follow him as he struggled to find his vocation. His detours as an art dealer, a bookseller, a preacher, all the while recording in his letters vivid visual descriptions of landscape and people. When he finally realized art was his calling, he had the sensibility of an artist from the start, even as he struggled with perspective and other matters of technique.
The hints of mania that take the form of religious fanaticism when he preached among coal miners transmuted to a personal approach to art. In a letter to his brother Theo in July 1885, Vincent contrasts his paintings of workers with earlier artists’ depiction of “types.” He is more interested in depicting work than in portraying exotic figures. When he paints faces, his ambition was to create a new kind of portrait, one that showed the mind, the soul, of the subject, rather than carefully recreating the surface facial features. To achieve what he’s after, he places less value on strict anatomical accuracy, becoming a forerunner of modernism.
Since most of his surviving letters were addressed to Theo, there is little from his hand to report his stay in Theo’s apartment in Paris. There he met the Impressionists and studied their trailblazing work. His own canvases from his time there reflect his absorption of their brighter palette. Yet when he left Paris for Arles, in the south of France, he consciously rejected many aspects of their style. He explained his decision to Theo. The Impressionists used color combinations to more accurately convey their visual impression than a direct application of color would. Van Gogh became convinced he should use vivid colors to express his emotional reaction to what he saw.
His letters not only report on his progress as an artist and his thoughts on theory, technique, and other artists. I was struck by how Vincent documents his passion for reading. It’s no surprise that he read books by and about artists, but he also devoured much contemporary literature, especially in French and English (he was good at languages).
In light of his complicated relationships (not only with Gaughin), his breakdowns, and his violent end, there is the temptation to read all his passionate outbursts and his tendency to preach condescendingly as ravings of a madman. The editor, Ronald de Leeuw, argues against this in his introduction. Yet, there are features in some of the letters that would sustain such a view. Balanced against this, however, are passages that convey his love of life and humanity and art. It took me a while to finish the book as I often stopped to copy out passages such as this one: “Anything complete and perfect renders infinity tangible.” Vincent Van Gogh’s output was impressive, both in volume and in its striking originality. Yet it is clear reading these letters that he is striving to convey the lustrous wonder of life, something far beyond what he or any other artist can achieve. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Diaries and letters are my #1 favorite books to read. Doesn't matter if the person is famous or not. Unfortunately, Vinnie's letters were boring AF for me. I like to read about what people were doing, thinking, saying, feeling, eating, drinking...I skimmed around through the book and didn't really find any of that. However, I was having a REALLY BAD DAY thanks to my internet down and missing half a day of work, and I rarely get rid of a non-fiction book and don't think I've ever gotten rid of a book of diaries or letters, so back on the shelf he went. Maybe I'll try again another time. ( )
  Jinjer | Jul 19, 2021 |
I first began my reading of these letters as a way to learn more about the art process, the way to creation coming from the mind of such a gifted artist such as Vincent Van Gogh. I also was interested in his life, his story, and how he got to this end. Personal letters seem to be so much more profitable to me as a reader than fiction, or even a biography. Throughout the entire book I came to feel, and inhabit, his struggle, his pain, his lack of recognition for what he deemed so important in total to his life. I learned through almost countless correspondences that he was rarely given the respect he felt he deserved, and he had just terrible luck with women. It was so sad the difficulties he faced socially. But I never felt once he was suicidal in his thinking. He was a creator, and a sick man obviously, but his genius insisted that he live and make history. I am of the opinion that Van Gogh shot himself in order that his brother Theo’s family could once again thrive as they had fallen on hard times and were suffering. A gut shot is a slow death, and in it one has the opportunity to say what needs to be said to those around him even though the end of life is inevitable.

In regards to the art of Van Gogh, the letters presented a complete study in the use of color. I came to understand his selections based on these letters explaining in great detail why he chose specific colors to use in his paintings. The man was authentic, and that is all one might hope to become in such a short and often confusing life we are all faced with. Vincent Van Gogh was gifted in so many ways, and had such high hopes as dreamers often do. The letters are a testament to his great love for his brother, and the many works of genius he left for those of us who today appreciate it. And as good a literary work as anything I have ever read. ( )
1 vote MSarki | Jan 23, 2016 |
loved it, good picture of him and theo
  debrah | Aug 17, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vincent van Goghprimary authorall editionscalculated
Leeuw, Ronald deEditormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mark RoskillEditormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powell, ElfredaEditormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pomerans, ArnoldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
van Gogh-Bonger, JohannaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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'Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.'Few artists' letters are as self-revelatory as Vincent Van Gogh's, and the selection included here, spanning the whole of his artistic career, sheds light on every facet of the life and work of this complex and tortured man. Engaging candidly and movingly with his religious struggles, his ill-fated search for love, his attacks of mental illness and his intense relationship with his brother Theo, the letters contradict the popular image of Van Gogh as an anti-social madman and a martyr to art, showing instead that he was capable of great emotional and spiritual depths. Above all, they stand as an intense personal narrative of artistic development and a unique account of the process of creation. The letters are linked by explanatory biographical passages, revealing Van Gogh's inner journey as well as the outer facts of his life. This edition includes the drawings that originally illustrated the letters.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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