Vincent van Gogh aged 20

Vincent Van Gogh Letters – Press Reviews


Journal of European Studies 8th August 2010
‘Every self-respecting library will need to acquire this magnificent edition … an instrument de travail without parallel … an archival resource which will be the starting-point for all future studies of Van Gogh.’


Richard Cork – The Independent 10th January 2010
'Now, with the publication of an unprecedentedly complete edition of his letters, we are able to get closer to Van Gogh's struggle.'
See the full article in The Independent


Richard Shone – The Spectator 9th December 2009
'It is surely one of the finest publications of our time, in the way that production and scholarship match the extraordinary human and aesthetic interest of the story that is revealed.'
See the full article in The Spectator


Brian Sewell – London Evening Standard 9 December 2009
Far the most important art book of the year - perhaps even of the decade - is Vincent van Gogh - The Letters … This is not only a compendium of letters but the authoritative life and the sympathetic interpretation of a troubled soul: a century hence, it will still be the work of reference.


Charles Darwent – The Independent:
Best Art Books of 2009
6 December 2009
How big do stockings run? I ask only because this year's must-have Christmas art book is XXL and then some: the magnificent, six-volume Vincent van Gogh: The Letters (Thames & Hudson, £325). Yes, I know it's a lot of money in mid-recession. But this scholarly collection of Vincent's jottings is a once-in-a-lifetime event – part diary, part immaculately reproduced sketchbook, and at least 40 years' worth of reading for any real van Gogh devotee. That's £8 a year, or 15p a week. You know it makes sense.


Philip Pullman – The Guardian Christmas book choice 28 November 2009
'… publishing at its most creative and spectacular. Every single letter of this great letter-writer is here, together with (and this is the point) every single drawing or sketch that van Gogh included, reproduced with beautiful clarity. But even more: since the story of his life is that of the development of a visual sensibility, every painting or print that he mentions as having seen is also reproduced, on the same page as his reference to it. Simply as a piece of book design, this takes the breath away; but to read the letters, and watch this passionate, clumsy, brilliant, earnest, suffering genius find his way towards the work he was going to be world-famous for, is to be – if you have a soul at all – wonderstruck.
If this were 10 times the price, it would still be worth it.
See the Guardian Christmas Book Choice


Mary Tompkins Lewis – The Wall Street Journal December 3 2009
'… will undoubtedly reshape the landscape of van Gogh scholarship and the image of the artist long held by the public... one comes away astonished at the ardor and depth of van Gogh's immersion into a cultural world we have long thought he knew only from a distance... an absorbing literary legacy on their own and crucial to the whole of the painter's achievement'
See the full article in The Wall Street Journal


Martin Bailey – Apollo Magazine Book of the Year 24 November 2009
This new edition and translation of Van Gogh’s letters has rightly been greeted as a triumph. It brings us closer to the man, stripping away many of the myths that engulf his life and art. It is the most significant publication on Van Gogh since the de la Faille catalogue raisonné, published in 1928.


Andrew Motion – The Guardian 21 November 2009
'Van Gogh's letters are the best written by any artist. Engrossing, moving, energetic and compelling, they dramatise individual genius while illuminating the creative process in general. The new book … is one of the major publishing achievements of our time.'
See the full review in The Guardian


Robert Fox – London Evening Standard, Best Books of the Year
19 November 2009
'One of the great publishing highlights of this or any year.… The letters are moving and rational and show how Van Gogh wrought a revolution in painting and colour in the last few years of his short life.'


Ann Dumas - RA Magazine Autumn 2009
'His letters are a work of great lucidity, an intimate meditation on life and art expresed in the most immediate, eloquent and often moving words. This outstanding publication immeasurably enriches our understanding of this great artist.


Charles Darwent – Independent on Sunday 8 November 2009
'For the past 15 years, curators at the Van Gogh Museum have been editing the artist's huge correspondence, an outcome of this being what is probably the most important art publication of the century so far: Van Gogh – The Letters, in six glorious Thames & Hudson volumes. Vincent was a prolific writer, the clarity of his thought radically contradicting the view of him as a one-eared loon. What makes his letters particularly exciting, though, is that they are also works on paper, pages from a serial sketchbook on which Van Gogh tried out new ideas for paintings. … Do Van Gogh's drawings illustrate his text or the other way about? And what is the relationship between letter-sketches and finished canvases, some of the latter known only from the evidence of the former? These are meaty issues, and the evidence for debating them lies in the Van Gogh Museum's peerless collection of correspondence and paintings.'
See the full review in the Independent


Paul Levy – Wall Street Journal 6th November 2009
'The new edition of the letters depict Vincent as a rational artist, but a troubled, though superlatively talented, modern man. Above all, the letters are a remedy for critical judgment jaded by a million cheap posters: they help us look at the pictures afresh and see the truly great artist who made them'.
See the full review in the Wall Street Journal


Richard Dorment – Daily Telegraph 31st October 2009
'Beautifully produced by Thames & Hudson in six volumes … it supersedes all others. It is the art publishing event of the decade'.
See the full review in the Saturday Telegraph


The Economist 29th October 2009
'The publication of the six volumes is cause for celebration. To have all the artist’s words together with all those images is like being given a pair of super-special 3D spectacles. The resulting self-portrait has a depth that would not exist were this a collection only of images or only of words. This could be the best autobiography of an artist yet to appear anywhere.'
See the full review in The Economist


Boyd Tonkin – The Independent 9 October 2009
'As for these six sumptuous and scholarly volumes, with more than 4,000 illustrations and a comprehesive editorial apparatus that never gets in the way of the reader's enjoyment, £325 may look a steep price for a set of books. Given the quality of the production, and the marathon of multi-national research that has led to this definitive edition, it ought to sound a bargain.'
'… no systematic illustrated and annotated version available in English has existed until now. At last, Van Gogh speaks at full volume.'
'In the letters, every twist of Van Gogh's lurching career comes alive with passionate descriptions, disputes and defences that leave no step unscrutinised and no painting unannotated.'
'With his words and visions united in all their blazing intensity, this momentous edition at last completes the palette of Vincent's double art.'
See the full review in The Independent


Vincent Dowd – BBC World Service 20 October 2009
Click to listen to Vincent Dowd's interesting report on Van Gogh's time in Auvers


Martin Bailey – The Art Newspaper 30 September 2009
'Vincent van Gogh: The Letters transforms our understanding of the artist … Seeing the illustrations provides a vivid musée imaginaire of Van Gogh’s mind.'
'… a magnificent achievement.'
See the full review in The Art Newspaper


Waldemar Januszchak – Times online 20 September 2009
'As if being the painter of scores of masterpieces that scorch themselves onto your retina were not enough, Vincent was also a marvellous writer. More than 900 missives by him are known to survive, most of them in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum, where they form — let me take a deep breath here — the greatest cache of writing about art left behind by any artist. They really do. There are other artists, of course, who wrote good letters, and other artists who were fine writers. Have you read Michelangelo’s sonnets? Superb. But Van Gogh differs from the rest in the sheer copiousness of his outpourings.'

'The new edition … has put everything back. And then piled all manner of new stuff on top. The letters that have turned up more recently have been added. Endless footnotes have been gathered. Every quotation has been tracked down and discussed. Every artistic mention is illustrated. Every mark that Vincent made on paper has been reinvestigated, re-transcribed, reanalysed, then thought about again. The result is a six-volume monster that weighs roughly the same as Mike Tyson and will surely become an instant favourite on Desert Island Discs. Because this is now a book of unfinishable depths and lengths.'
See the full review in Times Online


Matthew Dennison – Times online Book of the Week, 9 October 2009
'Van Gogh’s regular, forward-sloping script, with scratchings-out and insertions, and his sketches — often of paintings in progress — cover the cheap paper, yellowed by time. The result is a remarkably comprehensive portrait of the artist as a young man. It is also powerful and intermittently disturbing stuff.'

'In December 1881, Vincent told Theo: "You’ll just have to separate the wheat from the chaff in my letters." In this huge survey, different readers will find different passages of indigestibility. But I defy anyone not to rise in revolt at a letter written the following summer: “What am I in the eyes of most people? A nonentity or an oddity or a disagreeable person ... in short a little lower than the lowest." Wrong again, Vincent.'
See the full article in Times Online


Maev Kennedy – Guardian.co.uk 9 October 2009
'[The exhibition] is subtitled "the artist speaks". But he doesn't just speak; he enthrals. In the letters on show here he is often miserable, sick, hungover, scared, broke and sorry for himself. But he is more often gossipy, thoughtful, clever and hugely entertaining. He is never that wild man of Hollywood caricature, bellowing incoherently and hurling daubs of paint at the canvas.'
See the full review in Guardian online


Jackie Wullschlager – The Financial Times 19 September 2009
'This new sumptuous, scholarly international edition in six volumes is, therefore, enormously welcome. The product of 15 years’ work by experts at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and at the Huygens Institute, it is the most important art publication of 2009, if not of the decade. Its innovative approach and ambitious scope significantly deepen our understanding of the great founder of modern art.'
'The 20th century, obsessed with creative individuality, revered van Gogh as lone pioneer; this has clouded how crucially he was shaped by 19th-century social upheaval and idealism. The new volumes explode that myth and return him to a cultural context whose masters included Millet, mentioned 200 times, and gritty social realist Zola, the most cited writer here.'
'Above all, through the paradoxes of his character, these marvellous volumes, with their interlacing of words and images, convey as never before the unity of his artistic project – social, aesthetic, emotional, spiritual – and his search for his destiny: a quest that reads here with the personal urgency, validity and vitality of a great novel.'
See the full review in The Financial Times


John Banville – The Observer Sunday 18 October 2009
' … a deeply affecting insight into the mind of one of the strangest and yet best-loved painters of the early Modernist period.

'The letters, though they offer painful reading in many places, are a record of a great and unrelenting struggle to make a life and to make art, and to make a life in art.'
See the full review in The Observer


Robert Fox – The First Post 6th October 2009
'At times in his life he could barely give away his paintings, let alone sell them. But today Vincent Van Gogh, long one of the world's most sought after and loved artists, conquers a new literary stage, with the publication of more than 800 of his letters. Some 120 of the letters form a major exhibition at the museum named after him in Amsterdam. They are surrounded by some of his most celebrated paintings - the sunflowers, irises, the roasting sun at Arles, the stars whirling like Catherine wheels, the threatening cloud of crows above the wheatfield painted at Auvers sur Oise just days before he shot himself, never to recover.

The project to edit all the known correspondence – 819 of his own letters, and 93 of those to him from his brother Theo and painters including Gaugin – has taken 15 years. The glory of the letters is the matching of the words with sketches and diagrams. "They're really an extension of the paintings and pictures - a form of art in themselves, sketch-letters," says Leo Jansen, one of the designers of the project. '
See the full review in The First Post


Art Knowledge News 8th October 2009
'Many people consider Van Gogh’s letters to be an art form of their own, just as impressive as his famous paintings. Within the pages of the lengthy letters are remarkable sketches of works that he was in the process of creating or had recently finished. The sketches allow us to see the progression of Van Gogh’s work as well as his growth as an artist. There is great attention to detail in these sketches. '

'Van Gogh’s letters show a side of him many don’t know about and give a good perspective of the artist’s life and his connection to his artwork as well as his state of mind. The sketches are invaluable, as they give us glimpses into the process by which Van Gogh arrived at his masterpieces.'


Alan Taylor – The Herald 27th October 2009
'It is a monumental scholarly achievement which not only refreshes our knowledge of Van Gogh but allows us to follow his stumbling path from rookie painter painstakingly copying the works of his predecessors and contemporaries, in order to understand how to pursue his craft, to that of peerless genius whose compositions are simultaneously and instantly recognisable and constantly surprising and inspiring.

'What makes Van Gogh’s story all the more fascinating is the way in which he writes about himself, describing his world view, what he’s reading, the galleries he visits, the sunsets, his family, his huge ambition and desire to realise it, and his almost total obscurity during his lifetime.'

See the full review in The Herald Scotland