Most people have heard of Vincent Van Gogh, the famous--or infamous--nineteenth-century artist. He's the one who painted Starry Night and various Sowers and Sunflowers, among a very few. But he is also notorious as the deranged artist who cut off his ear in 1888.
What lead to this act of self-mutilation, this event known as "the Crisis"? In the weeks leading up to the Crisis, Van Gogh shared a cramped studio with another renowned artist, Paul Gauguin. Located in the southern French town of Arles, the Yellow House became the setting for one of art history's oddest pairings.
In hopes of changing the future of art, Van Gogh and Gauguin agreed to a period of collaboration. Great things indeed happened. But with such disparate personalities, the idyll of the artists' dream didn't last.
Martin Gayford presents an intimate look into a critical period in art history. Dogged research not only into letters written by Van Gogh and Gauguin, but through public records and more, has allowed Gayford to surmise what daily life must have been like for the two artists that autumn.
Art enthusiasts interested in either artist's story will find THE YELLOW HOUSE a fascinating study. Casual purveyors, however, might find their attention wanders when Gayford gets into minute details that mean more to an artist than the average person, such as the weather on a given day. Overall, this accounting of "nine turbulent weeks in Arles" is well done. It is less dry than many biographies, and there is a real sense of the rise and fall of the Yellow House studio, and the enormous emotional impact on all those involved.
This is a definite recommendation for readers interested in Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and/or art from that period. Readers who are only interested in the Crisis may be surprised to learn a lot more than they expect, as well.
Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
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