Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Yellow House by Martin Gayford

When we went to Amsterdam last year, I confess I was not driven to see Van Gogh’s paintings.  Although I had the Van Gogh museum on our itinerary, I was far more interested in going to The Hague and Van Gogh was relegated to “If we have time” Plan B.  But Rob was so sick and I didn’t want to go too far from our hotel.  I took a morning to go to the Rijksmuseum (which truly needs more than a single morning to be fully appreciated) and saw some Van Gogh paintings I’d only seen in books and I was hooked!  The next day I went to the Van Gogh museum for the morning.

I’m so glad I did.  It was well worth the trip and I walked out madly in love with Van Gogh’s work.  A few weeks later, back in my own living room (and country, for that matter), I watched the Kirk Douglas film Lust for Life.  Not that I expected historical accuracy from a Hollywood biopic based on a novel by Irving Stone.  I think the movie is interesting in that they intersperse the narrative arch with pauses featuring Van Gogh’s artwork.  I imagine that, for some (perhaps many?), this movie served as an introduction to the artist’s life and life’s work.  It fueled my personal curiosity to know more about the man. 

Which is why I wanted to read The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford.  The author has done an excellent job of researching a specific period of time in these artist’s lives, giving just enough backstory to provide a context for the events that lead to the notorious moment of Van Gogh’s life—the cutting off of his ear, or part thereof.  Gaugin comes off as selfish, narcissistic, and not especially sympathetic.  But, in his defense, he was dealing with a man who was, himself, unstable.  The author suggests Van Gogh suffered from bipolar disorder, which certainly explains some of his behavior.  Nonetheless, he was appreciated by his peers and his family members believed in his talent.  Van Gogh’s passion, his constant push to perfect his craft, are effectively communicated through the pages of this book.  There are some photos included but I still found myself making note of some of the artwork mentioned but not included in the photos so I could better appreciate the many details Gayford includes.   For anyone curious to know more about Van Gogh and/or Gaugin, this book is one I would highly recommend. 

I made this cross stitch for my mother.
This is the back, because my mother always looks at the back.

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