Painting by Words
The new edition of van Gogh's letters, one of the greatest autobiographies of an artist, provides fresh insight into how his paintings grew out of his writings, and vice versa.
Like much Impressionist and Renaissance art, Vincent van Gogh's best paintings are overexposed. We have seen the images too many times in popular culture, and so The Starry Night, 1889, sometimes looks more like cliché than masterpiece. The story of van Gogh's life has become tired as well. We have all read about the drinking, the whoring, and the self-mutilation. Irving Stone novelized it as early as 1934, and Kirk Douglas played van Gogh in 1956, which is now more than half a century ago. His images are on tote bags and postcards everywhere. Any van Gogh exhibit at a major museum draws large crowds or even record ticket sales. What is left to surprise us?
The new six-volume annotated edition of van Gogh's letters holds the answer to that question, and it is a reaffirmation of the artist. In 902 letters, plus
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