I have presented the following books about Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh in a reading order designed to give you a rounded picture of a great artist, a tormented man who is never seen separate from the emotions of the people who admire his art. It is almost as if looking at a Van Gogh painting must simultaneously say to the viewer, “Think of me when you are looking at my painting” instead of “I like or do not like this painting because of…yes, he definitely had a problem.” For that reason I suggest looking at the art without any preconceived notions of the artist, then take a history trip that will make it clear why it was not only Van Gogh who was disturbed in that era, his letters where he explained himself, the tragic story that everyone loves, and then finally the latest biography which attempts to explain his life by adding even more shocking tragedy.
Van Gogh Paintings and Drawings CD-ROM and Book, edited by Carol Belanger Grafton, Dover Publications, Inc., 2007. I recommend that you start off with a viewing experience uninfluenced by any art critiques, explanations of art aesthetics, or praise. Look at the images and let your mind and eye work together, allowing your feelings and thoughts to flow uninhibitedly to take you on a visual journey at the end of which you will know what you like rather than being told what you should like.
An Introduction to Nineteenth Century Art by Michelle Facos, Routeledge, 2011. A newly published art history text book by Professor Facos of the Indiana University Department of Art History. She covers a wide view of art from the late 1700s through the 1800s, that ranges from sculpture and photography, to cultures often not included– Russia, Finland, Native American, the Abolitionist Movement, as examples–with discussions of the sociological and political events that influenced the artists and the styles they created.
After looking at the artwork of Van Gogh, this academic history of the culture and political events makes clearer the reasons for the radical break of European art from the traditional classical to the new Romantic, Realistic, and Impressionistic styles. This book contains black and white, and color reproductions of sculpture and paintings; available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.
Conversations with Van Gogh by Simon Parke, White Crow Books, 2010. Available in hardcover, paperback, e-reader, and audio books. Vincent van Gogh was an educated and literate man who wrote many letters to his brother, Theo, in which he described his feelings and emotions, revealing his inner thoughts. These are his own words from which you form your own picture of him. Compare them to how he is portrayed by his critics and the public who did not have a close up view of him, but were persuaded by rumors and misinterpretation of his manic behavior, eccentricities, and experimental artistic style.
Lust for Life by Irving Stone, first published in 1934, is a fictionalized biography of the great painter, based in part on Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo. It is a classic still in print and now available in the movie version on DVD. I first read it as a teenager and cried and remembered it as one of the most tragic stories I had ever read. In 1954 Vincent Minnelli directed Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh, and Anthony Quinn as Gauguin in the MGM movie Lust for Life based on Stone’s novel. If you didn’t cry when you read the book, you will when you see the movie.
Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White, Woodward/White, Inc., 2011. A new biography, available in hardcover and an electronic book format, it goes into extreme detail about family, locations, and Van Gogh’s erratic behavior, beginning with a scene where he is obsessively re-reading Hans Christian Andersen’s dark tale “The Story of a Mother” and ends with the startling conclusion that he was murdered. This has not been generally accepted but it has been rated by critics as highly interesting reading.