Van Gogh's Women: HIs Love Affairs and a Journey into Madness

Van Gogh's Women: HIs Love Affairs and a Journey into Madness

by Derek Fell
     
 

A widowed first cousin, Kee; a prostitute named Sien; shy, spinsterish Margot Bergemann; the seventeen-year-old peasant girl Stien de Groot—to all of them Vincent van Gogh would declare his love. In none of them would he find the wife to seal the emotional bond that he so perfectly imagined and ardently desired. He described it, too, in his correspondence, not

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Overview

A widowed first cousin, Kee; a prostitute named Sien; shy, spinsterish Margot Bergemann; the seventeen-year-old peasant girl Stien de Groot—to all of them Vincent van Gogh would declare his love. In none of them would he find the wife to seal the emotional bond that he so perfectly imagined and ardently desired. He described it, too, in his correspondence, not only in the remarkable, justly famous letters exchanged with his brother Theo, but also in heartfelt missives to his aggrieved mother, his loyal sister Wil, and his devoted sister-in-law Johanna. Focusing especially on van Gogh's letters to these three steadfast women he called his sisters, award-winning author Derek Fell examines Vincent's interior life and poignantly documents his emotional decline. Indeed, the blows that Vincent's psyche suffered—like his rejection by Kee and a dramatic showdown with her father in which the devastated Vincent held his hand in a lantern's flame—continually undermined his self-worth. In a sensitive reading and astute interpretation of van Gogh's own written words, Fell illuminates the passions that at once commanded Vincent's genius and tormented his heart. Many illustrations are included in this revealing life of the artist, as seen through the lens of his loves and losses.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
While much has been written about Vincent van Gogh's close and complicated friendships with his brother Theo and the painter Paul Gauguin, comparatively little attention has been paid to the women in his life. In this pop-psych biography, Fell, who's best known for his garden photography (C zanne's Garden; Van Gogh's Gardens; etc.), uses van Gogh's extensive trove of letters to focus on the artist's relationships with women, particularly his sister Wilhelmina; Theo's wife, Johanna; his mother; and his various lovers, models and objects of romantic desire. Van Gogh's ill-fated early obsession with a widowed cousin betrays his fabled intensity; "while the sky becomes clouded and overcast with quarrels and curses, a light rises on her side," he wrote to Theo. His thoughtful missives to his aspiring-artist sister and his empathetic sister-in-law show warmer and deeper facets of his personality. Fell stretches his facts into conjecture at times, and he never lets up on his theory that van Gogh was permanently scarred when his mother named him after a stillborn older brother, as if the artist were a "replacement child." But for those who don't mind excess psychologizing and melodrama ("Since childhood, ghosts had starved Vincent of affection"), this book shines a novel light on a fascinating life. Agent, Al Zuckerman. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Art and garden historian Fell investigates the relationships, mostly with women, that marked the painter's life, showing how they reflected his thwarted emotional development. The structural blame can be laid at the feet of van Gogh's mother, the author suggests. Conceived as a "replacement child" for an earlier stillborn son, Vincent was always the imperfect substitute in jeopardy of abandonment. He wore a shroud of anxiety and melancholy, "a diminished sense of self-worth," as a result of never experiencing unconditional love from his mother-or father, for that matter. That lack, says Fell, found expression in a series of disastrous romantic relationships that were really pursuits of a mother substitute. Van Gogh's chivalrous interest in damaged women prompted acts of self-mutilation to prove his love-acts that also had men as their objects: it was Gauguin's rejection that sparked the infamous ear incident. But Fell (Van Gogh's Gardens, not reviewed) steers a wary course, abstaining from any pronouncements regarding his subject's sexual orientation. He feels more comfortable with bipolar mental illness as an explanation for van Gogh's seizures and high eccentricity, with the withholding of early affection identified as the seedbed of his misery. In the midst of all the psycho-profiling, Fell also finds time to comment on the evolution of van Gogh's art. He chronicles the move to Arles in search of the spontaneity, striking perspectives, and easeful clarity of Japanese linework; he examines van Gogh's fraught yet cross-fertilizing sojourn with Gauguin at his home in the south of France. Then back to madness, rejection by Dr. Gachet, worries over his brother's stipend, and the final,mortal act of mutilation. Readers' hearts will go out to this tortured soul.. A plausible, modest, and sensible understanding of the fever in which van Gogh lived and worked. (8 pp. b&w, 8 pp. color illustrations)Agent: Al Zuckerman/Writers House

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786714254
Publisher:
Da Capo Press
Publication date:
10/10/2004
Pages:
275
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.01(d)

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