39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2006
Subtitled: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles
A not-yet-famous Vincent Van Gogh rents a small yellow house in Arles in the south of France, hangs his paintings on the walls, sets up a studio, and invites a not-yet-famous Paul Gauguin to stay with him there and paint. Gauguin moves in, and a turbulent nine-week period of artmaking and everyday life begins.
In The Yellow House, Martin Gayford has combined thorough biographical research of two of the most important artists in history with moving and suspenseful storytelling. He invites readers to live, briefly and chaotically, with Van Gogh and Gauguin. Covering a short period of both artists' lives, the book focuses on details of the everyday, taking the reader into the very small space the two artists shared until it is possible to feel equally the mild claustrophobia and the exhilaration of watching a masterpiece being painted.
This period of time is a crucial one for both artists, and Gayford shows how their living and working together deeply affected both of their development. They shared ideas and meals, disagreed and mimicked one another, and each created some of his greatest masterpieces during this time: Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Gauguin's Vision of the Sermon among them. But all was not well. Less than two months after Gauguin arrived in Arles, Van Gogh suffered the famous breakdown which led him to cut off his own ear.
With masterful storytelling, Gayford builds toward this crisis, describing the tension between Van Gogh and Gauguin, while sensitively exploring Van Gogh's developing mental illness. The result is a vivid and dramatic glimpse into the minds and hearts of two of history's greatest painters.
Armchair Interviews says: Observe these famous artists through this book.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2006
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
4.5-Books on WUAT = S-Stars on Amazon
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A greatly enjoyable book. While focussed on just nine weeks in Arles, the narriative darts back and forth over the past lives of Van Gogh and Gauguin in the attempt to explain their specific actions that took place in and around the famous Yellow House.
Martin Gayford does not claim to have written an academic history, but one attempting to shed clarifying light on the actual motivations, thoughts and techniques that resulted in some of the Western world's greatest art. I think the author succeeded in his objective.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
One of the most famous episodes of disastrous behavior by an artist is the tormented Vincent van Gogh's cutting off his ear. People who don't know anything else about the artist, or anything about art, know about the spectacular self-mutilation. There is more to the story, of course, and the excision of the ear is certainly not the most important part of van Gogh's life, but it did provide a climax to an important episode in that life, the collaboration between van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. In _The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles_ (Little, Brown), art critic Martin Gayford has recreated almost a day-by-day account of the time the two painters lived together, painted together, stimulated one another, and got on each other's nerves. It is a period that art historians have probed ever since van Gogh's postmortem fame, and while there have been recent discoveries made about details of the collaboration, Gayford's book in its chronological account gets close inside the minds of the two giants as they muddled their way through their period as housemates. Though Gayford tells in abbreviated form about what went on in their lives before and after their sharing of the Yellow House, the concentration on this particular period is wonderfully illuminating.
Van Gogh arrived in Arles in February 1888, and on his walks spied the Yellow House, which he leased for five months. He was well known as a loner, but he had long dreamed of making a colony for artists who would collaborate together; it wasn't that they would work jointly on their canvases, but they would "live and paint together - different in individual style but sharing a common aim, exchanging ideas, commenting on each other's work." Vincent's brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris who lent support in multiple ways to his brother, hoped that it would be good for Vincent to have a companion, and offered Gauguin, whose paintings Theo brokered, a stipend to move in. Shortly after Gauguin's arrival, they proceeded out to paint the autumn foliage of Arles. They would carry out their gear, set up a few yards from each other, and work simultaneously on parallel subjects. There are thus fascinating pairs of paintings to show what the two artists made of the same subject. They talked about their work, they criticized and praised, and for the first weeks all was well. Gradually, however, van Gogh began to behave in ways that Gauguin could not accept or change. The exact reason for van Gogh's peculiar behavior has been retrospectively diagnosed with a dozen maladies, but Gayford makes the case (already made by others) that van Gogh had bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression). In the particular case of the Yellow House there were other strains. "The claustrophobic pattern of life," writes Gayford, "would have put a strain on the most phlegmatic pair of friends."
Toward the end of the collaboration, van Gogh was strained by the chromatic complexities of his portrait _La Berceuse_. He was drinking, and alcohol always made him more erratic, and he was worried about Gauguin's departure; Gauguin had written to Theo, "Vincent and I are absolutely unable to live side by side without trouble caused by incompatibility of temperament and he like I needs tranquility for his work. He is a man of remarkable intelligence whom I esteem greatly, and I leave with regret, but it is necessary." Van Gogh had taken to wandering at night and winding up near Gauguin's bed, disconcerting his companion. At one point, after consuming an absinthe, van Gogh hurled the glass at Gauguin. On 23 December, van Gogh rushed menacingly in the dark upon Gauguin, and (if the report of the latter is to be believed) did so with a straight razor. Gauguin escaped to a hotel, van Gogh returned home, took the razor, and sliced off his ear. Gayford analyzes possible sources for the self-mutilation, from the Gethsemane story to a newspaper report about Jack the Ripper cutting off the ears of one of his victims. The police were called to the Yellow House to pack van Gogh off the to hospital, where in his delirium he called repeatedly for Gauguin. Gauguin, however, claimed that a visit would make things worse, and left for Paris; they never saw each other again. Gauguin indeed was off to the tropics, and van Gogh was off for a year and a half of hospitalizations and remissions and astonishing productivity, ending in his suicide. Gayford's account measures each day and week in the collaboration with fitting detail, and always concentrates on the paintings that the two men produced during the time. It is the paintings, of course, that matter, not the incivility, neuroses, or madness of the painters. Van Gogh himself declared, "Old Gauguin and I understand each other basically, and if we are a bit mad, what of it?"
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2009
In 1888, Vincent van Gogh, as yet utterly unknown except to a tiny cadre of equally unmarketable painters, coaxed the nearly as unknown Paul Gauguin to travel to Arles, in southern France, to share a house and studio -- the Yellow House -- with the implicit goals of inspiring each other's work and establishing the nucleus of new radical creative movement. Vincent was at that time completely dependent on gifts of money from his brother Theo, an art dealer well established in Paris. Paul was almost equally impoverished, but suddenly, while in Arles, a few of his paintings drew attention and were sold by his agent, the same Theo van Gogh. This book, The Yellow House, is a narrative of the nine weeks during which the two painters "played studio" together -- nine weeks when both men painted astounding masterpieces (van Gogh producing sometimes two canvases a day, including several of his greatest works), profoundly influenced each other and thus most of the painters of the next 100 years, tormented each other psychologically, led each other into disastrous behaviors and self-abuses, and finally ruptured their collaboration forevermore, as Gauguin fled for Paris and van Gogh chopped off part of an ear and wound up in an asylum. One would have needed a profound self-sacrificing faith in the genius of either man in order to put up with him intimately. No one - not even another genius - could possibly have lived and worked with both of them.
Author Martin Gayford, nevertheless, portrays this 'collision of galaxies' with immense empathy for both artists. In the course of his narration, he manages to trace the earlier lives of both without slipping into any kind of deterministic assessment of the sources of their inspiration or their mental anguish. It's clear that Gayford considers the art they created to have been 'worth' the suffering they experienced and caused. It's also clear that Gayford regards van Gogh as the greater painter, a judgment I'd be unable to make; whosoever's painting I'm standing before is invariably the greatest for me. Gayford is generally careful not to fictionalize recklessly, though much of what he reports is obviously conjectural, but he tells his story with the flair of a non-fiction novelist. But I should warn casual readers: if you have no stock of visual/emotional response to the paintings, if you've never even seen any of them, if you couldn't care less about the human turmoils of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, or about "modern art" in general, this book is not for you; you are not worthy of it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2009
I accidently got this book thinking it was something else, but am so glad for that mistake because this is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. It truly moves you in every way. If you didn't hold Vincent dear in your heart before, you surely will after reading this, and will carry him with you for the rest of your life.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2009
"The Yellow House - Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles" by Martin Gaylord (ISBN 978-0316769013) published by Little, Brown and Co, 2006. It is practically a daily account during the nine weeks the "odd couple" lived and painted together in Arles, France - ending with Van Gogh's death. I was intrigued and enlightened to discover the details of how the two painters worked, what inspired them, their visits to museums, how they were treated by the locals and their constant communication with their art dealer in Paris, Theo.
You might envy their experiences and feel their anxiety, realizing you're not that different from them or other painters who go to their studios and make paintings! The Yellow House is a good read-- some photos, black and white. My companion piece to this book is "Van Gogh and Gauguin - The Studio of the South" - by Douglas Druick and Peter Kort Zegers. Many color pictures, showing the work produced during those nine wild weeks. Published by Thames and Hudson, Inc. in conjunction with the exhibition "Van Gogh and Gauguin - The Studio of the South" 2002.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2012
I wish more authors would write books like theis. Trying to write a book about the life of Van Gogh - or any great person - is just too broad. The Yellow House takes just one segment - 9 weeks in a Yellow House in France - and provides a very interesting and informative description of that time. The 9 weeks include when Van Gogh cut his ear off.
Visiting a small museum on just one topic is much more memorable to me than a gigantic art museum covering many artists and periods. You get a much better sense of the artist at the small museum. I felt the same way with this book. It is able to drill down to a level of detail that is not possible in something more broad. While you won't get a complete overview of the artists through this book, it provides a much more intimate and informative segment of their lives, which I found to be more impactful and memorable than attempting to cover their entire lives.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2010
Fascinating life, obnoxious author.
That is how I feel after having finished reading "The Yellow House" by Martin Gayford. The book covers the nine weeks that Vincent van Gogh and Gauguin spent in Arles together. The research Mr. Gayford put into this book is very much appreciated. I learned a lot that I had not previously known. For example, I had not known that Paul Signac (the famous Pointillist painter) had visited Van Gogh after Vincent's breakdown, or the extent that Gauguin was enamored with Vincent's paintings of sunflowers.
One thing I do have to say to Mr. Gayford's credit is that the writing is never dry, like so many other biographies. This is no small task as the world is full of dry almost unreadable biographies.
Being a fan of Vincent van Gogh's work I was very much interested in this book that covers such a vital part of Van Gogh's life. This book had geat potential, sadly though at times the author's own views and personality would make its ugly mark, ruining an otherwise excellent book. His treatment of Van Gogh and Gauguin was at best insensitive. Often he would preface a quotation by writing "Vincent pathetically wrote" and other such unflattering adjectives. Of course one expects an author of such a biographical work to at all times be honest, if you are writing about an unpleasant person (which by many accounts Van Gogh was) then one shouldn't water this down. I have no qualms with this, but it seemed clear to me that Mr. Gayford would go out of his way to hurl a snobbish insult against either Van Gogh or Gauguin. How someone who spent so much time putting together such a book, spending hours upon hours reading personal letters from these two great painters could have such a lack of sympathy for them is beyond me.
I'm forced to think that either Mr. Gayford truly does not like Vincent van Gogh and Gauguin (in that case why go to all the trouble of writing a biography of them?), or (what I suspect to be true and if it is the case it saddens me greatly) that Mr. Gayford purposely sets out in his book to put on airs and look down his nose at Van Gogh and Gauguin to make his own work appear more scholarly. This was all done so that his friends and peers can wonder and be astounded at Mr. Gayford's great intellect. The effect is lost on me, instead I am simply left to wonder if it hurts one's neck to have his nose stuck so high up in the air.
Speaking of the period where Vincent breaks down and slices off a part of his ear Mr. Gayford writes that "the unscholarly reveled in this gory episode". Speaking as a member of the unscholarly I must disagree. Vincent was clearly unwell, he did strange things because of being unwell, there is no great mystery there. Certainly there are more details to be found out, but in the end there is much more to be learned and appreciated through Vincent's view of life and art than some small episode where a mentally unwell person does something drastic. Mr. Gayford paints this episode as something that only the unscholarly revel in but ironically this does not hold Mr. Gayford back one bit from jumping in to wallow with us unwashed masses. Clearly the whole book centers on this gory episode of Vincent slicing off part of his ear. Everything preceding the event alludes to the coming climax; the entire focus of the book is this "unscholarly episode". So then what should one conclude about this book?
The Yellow House did have many interesting facts about Vincent and Gauguin's life, but I am certain that you can find a better biographical work than this one.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2009
This was a brilliant book. I have not looked at a Van Gogh or a Gauguin painting the same ever since I read this. If you are curious about Van Gogh's "hygenic" ways this is an excellent choice to investigate the question. There are choice quotes and if you have Dutch ancestry like myself, you will find enjoyment in this book.