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Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art Hardcover – November 15, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The paintings of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin continue to attract critical attention in books like Stephen Eisenman's acclaimed Gauguin's Skirt. The artists' stormy friendship, which climaxed in the famous incident when Van Gogh cut off part of his ear and sent it to an Arles prostitute, contains high drama amid some world-class art. Now Silverman (UCLA professor of modern European history, art, and culture and author of Selling Culture) weighs in with this massive new study, as ponderous as it is extensively pondered. Attempting to deepen the understanding of Van Gogh and Gauguin's work during the time the artists spent together in Arles, Silverman examines their religious education in sections like "Catholic Idealism and Dutch Reformed Realism" and "Peasant Subjects and Sacred Forms." A galumphing prose style does not lighten the load of these subjects. The author goes on at great length, for example, about Bishop Dupanloup, a 19th-century French pedagogue, and Cornelius Huysmans, a Dutch teacher, and their supposed influences on Gauguin and Van Gogh, respectively. However, these influences come off as generalized at best, and indisputably dull at worst, smothering the natural drama and excitement of both the work and the artists' lives. Dramatic rights, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The stormy relationship of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh during their tenure in Arles has enjoyed a long history of speculation. The relationship's failure and van Gogh's infamous self-mutilation are usually interpreted to be the result of Van Gogh's pychopathology. Silverman (Selling Culture; Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Si cle France) provides a broader perspective, emphasizing key ideological differences that likely drove the two artists apart. Gauguin and van Gogh were engaged in developing a contemporary form of sacred art, but they approached their subject matter very differently. Gauguin, who was Catholic, saw the material world as an obstacle to spiritual attainment. Van Gogh, on the other hand, was enmeshed in the social fabric of the Dutch Reformed Church and saw the material world as a direct expression of the divine. For Van Gogh, the highest form of contemplation was daily activity and attention to one's craft. It's no wonder that this brotherhood of artists, which began in friendship and was generally positive, was due to have conflict. Silverman's scholarship and lucid writing makes this one of the most refreshing and insightful texts on these two artists in years. Because there are so many, this is saying a lot.
-DSusan Lense, Columbus, OH
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374282439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374282431
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 10.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #918,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By "chris05091966" on November 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Christ alone -- of all the philosophers, Magi, etc. -- has affirmed, as a principal certainty, eternal life, the infinity of time, the nothingness of death, the necessity and the raison d'etre of serenity and devotion. He lived serenely, as a greater artist than all other artists, despising marble and clay as well as color, working in living flesh. That is to say, this matchless artist, hardly to be conceived of by the obtuse instrument of our modern, nervous, stupefied brains, made neither statues nor pictures nor books; he loudly proclaimed that he made... living men, immortals. This is serious, especially because it is the truth." Vincent van Gogh wrote these words in a long letter to Emile Bernard, his close friend and painter. He wrote them in Arles, where was working particularly hard, at the end of June 1888. The greatest artistic achievements where still before him, as well as unexpected illness and pity death. Debora Silverman exhibits to us another great event of Vincent's life: short and vehement artistic friendship with Paul Gaugain, that inspired Vincent much and may be even more costed. They knew and write each other for some years. They spent together same weeks in Arles working and fiercely discussing many artistic topics. Unexpectedly, in a while of serious depression Vincent decided to punish his comrade. With dark intentions in the mind he even picked up a razor. But his own illness won. Next day Gaugin found him laying unconscious, all in blood, with one ear cut. Silverman asks how possible was this strange and strangely fruitful friendship. She explores complicated cultural and religious background of both the painters.Read more ›
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on November 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I collect art books and am particularly fond of Vincent Van Gogh, the fabulous Dutch artist of the 19th Century, who is probably the most popular of all artists--EVER (certainly my favorite!!). I have taken several art history courses with Van Gogh as subject, seen all the "Van Gogh" films, etc. I own many books about Van Gogh including a few I picked up in the Netherlands. What could anyone else possibly say about him that I have not already heard? The answer as it turns out is plenty. I had not yet read Debora Silverman's VAN GOGH AND GAUGUIN: THE SEARCH FOR SACRED ART.
Silverman has taken a different tact in writing about the artists Van Gogh and Gauguin--who will linked together through eternity if for no other reason than the episode in Arles with Van Gogh's "earlobe" (not ear). Like many, I have wondered just why these two men behaved so antagonistically towards each other. I have heard about personality conflicts, differing life styles, and mental illness, but somehow these reasons have never resonated with me. The explanation for the Gauguin-Van Gogh conflict according to Silverman was owing to nothing less than their conflicting interpretations of the meaning of life.
Gauguin was raised Roman Catholic and attended a Catholic boys school where he was taught the theology of bearing one's cross and dying to the material world to attain the transcendent good--paradise. Van Gogh came from a humanistic Dutch Reformed background in an era when this church was focused on the need for a consolatary religion in the face of EVOLUTION. Their conflict seems to have been a feud of a particular kind as both men attempted to understand the eternal truths, grapple with the new reality of science, and abandon their relgious upbringings.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Although a non-scholar, I have a keen interest in art history and thus was delighted to receive a copy of this book as a holiday gift from my daughter. The subtitle indicates Silverman's thematic objective: To examine "the search for sacred art." She provides her reader with a brilliantly written narrative during which she shares a wealth of information about Van Gogh and Gauguin, of course, in combination with hundreds of illustrations (many in full-color) which are skillfully correlated with the text. Here is how the material is organized:
Part One: Toward Collaboration [two "Self-Portraits"]
Part Two: Peasant Subjects and Sacred Forms [eg Van Gogh's "Sower" and Gauguin's "Vision After the Sermon"]
Part Three: Catholic Idealism and Dutch Reformed Realism
Part Four: Collaboration in Arles
Part Five: Theologies of Art After Arles
Part Six: Modernist Catechism and Sacred Realism
Silverman carefully identifies and then eloquently explores all manner of comparisons and contrasts between the lives and art of Van Gogh and Gauguin within an historical, theological, and anthropological context. Hers is a magnificent achievement.
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