Van Gogh Cafe at night
Photo of Arles by Greg_e used under a Creative Commons license.

Martin Gayford, The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence (Little, Brown, 2006).
In early 1888, Vincent Van Gogh moved from Paris to Arles, in southern France, where he hoped to find a new world to paint.  Van Gogh fixed up a yellow house and dreamed of starting a commune of artists, and to that end he implored Paul Gauguin to join him.  In October, Gauguin arrived, and the two artists together enjoyed an incredibly productive collaboration of sorts until December, when they fell out and Gauguin took the train north.  The two never saw each other again: Van Gogh died in mid-1890, and Gauguin wound up in Tahiti. Gayford takes full advantage of rich sources, including Van Gogh’s letters.  The only disappointment is that the many pictures of the paintings of Van Gogh and Gaugin are black and white, a terrible decision by the publisher, especially given the importance of color to both artists.  If you can, read it with a better source of Van Gogh’s art at hand — Judy Sund’s Van Gogh will do the trick nicely.

If you don’t recognize the scene, compare the photo above to this. Google Books lets you take a look at the book. Peter Schjeldahl (The New Yorker) calls it a skillfully ordered collection of informative and entertaining nuggets of intellectual and personal biography. Adam Jusko says the drama of the story makes it worth reading even for those who are only passingly familiar with the work of Van Gogh and Gauguin. Sue Gaisford (The Independent) calls it drily witty, original and profoundly absorbing. Robert Freedman, M.D. (American Journal of Psychiatry) says it is ideal for psychiatrists because Gayford lets Van Gogh and Gauguin speak for themselves. Richard Cork (The Guardian) appreciates the focus on the nine weeks in the two artists were together. Sue Bond says it gives a robust feeling for the way the two of them painted, and the different approaches they took. Jennifer Reese (Entertainment Weekly) gives it an A. Aditi Raychoudhury calls it an intricate, delicate, heart felt, and intensely human account that sheds light on what drove Van Gogh and Gauguin. Michele Heather Pollock applauds masterful storytelling. Deborah Hern says Gayford fashions a dramatic narrative. Peter Conrad (The Observer) calls it a book about colour. Sebastian Smee (The Spectator) says the story of those two months is tragic, pathetic, unfathomable, and so strange it simply has to be real. Clive Wilmer (The New Statesman) says its merit is in Gayford’s judgment of the issues. Michael Prodger (The Telegraph) thinks it’s wonderfully perceptive. Zane Ewton says Gayford turns legenday art figures into people. Gayford wrote this article in Apollo shortly before the book was released. More recently, Gayford took on a more recent theory about Van Gogh’s ear, and found more to say about Van Gogh. And here’s a Van Gogh walking tour of Arles.

Buy it at