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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (Penguin Classics) Paperback – March 1, 1998

4.7 out of 5 stars 1,022 ratings

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About the Author

Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890) was born in Holland. He became an assistant with an international firm of art-dealers and in 1881 he went to Brussels to study art. After an unsuccessful love affair with his cousin he returned to Holland and in 1885 he painted his first masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, a haunting scene of domestic poverty. A year later his brother Theo, an art dealer, enabled him to study in Paris, where he met Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Seurat, who became very important influences on his work.

In 1888 he left Paris for the Provençal landscape at Arles, the subject of many of his best works, including "Sunflowers" and "The Chair and the Pipe." It was here Van Gogh cut off his ear, in remorse for threatening Gauguin with a razor during a quarrel, and he was placed in an asylum for a year. On July 7, 1890 Van Gogh shot himself at the scene of his last painting, the foreboding "Cornfields with Flight of Birds," and he died two days later.

Ronald de Leeuw has been the director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam since 1986. He trained as an art historian at the universities of Los Angeles, California, and of Leiden, The Netherlands. As a specialist in nineteenth-century painting, he has been responsible for numerous exhibitions in The Netherlands and abroad, including the 1990 Vincent Van Gogh Centennial retrospective in Amsterdam. Since 1990 Ronald de Leeuw has also directed the Museum Mesdag in The Hague, known for its fine Barbizon and Hague School holdings. In 1994 he was appointed professor extraordinary in the history of collecting at the Free University of Amsterdam.

Arnold Pomerans was born in 1920 and was educated in South Africa. He emigrated to England in 1948, and from 1948 to 1955 taught physics in London. In 1955 he became a full-time translator and has had just under two hundred major works issued by leading British and US publishers. Among the authors translated by him are Louis de Broglie, Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud, George Grosz, Jan Huizinga, Jean Piaget and Jules Romain.
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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Classics; 1st Edition (March 1, 1998)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 560 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0140446745
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0140446746
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 18 years and up
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 13.5 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7.7 x 5 x 1 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 1,022 ratings

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Vincent Willem van Gogh (Dutch: [ˈvɪnsɛnt ˈʋɪləm vɑn ˈɣɔx] ( listen);[note 1] (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work had far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His paintings include portraits, self portraits, landscapes, still lifes, olive trees and cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers. He was largely ignored by critics until after his early death in 1890. The only substantial exhibitions held during his lifetime were showcases in Paris and Brussels. The first published full-length article came in 1890, when Albert Aurier described him as a Symbolist. The widespread and popular realisation of his significance in the history of modern art did not begin until his adoption by the Fauves and German Expressionists in the mid-1910s.

Vincent van Gogh was born to upper middle class parents and spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers before travelling to The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught in England at Isleworth and Ramsgate. Although he drew as a child, he did not paint until his late twenties; most of his best-known works were completed during the last two years of his life. He was deeply religious as a younger man and aspired to be a pastor and from 1879 worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he sketched people from the local community. His first major work was 1885's The Potato Eaters, from a time when his palette mainly consisted of sombre earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid colouration that distinguished his later paintings. In March 1886, he relocated to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists.

Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the region's strong sunlight. His paintings grew brighter in colour, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolours, drawings, sketches and prints.

After years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness he died aged 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been widely debated. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticize his ill health, art historians see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence wrought through illness. His late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, completely in control, and according to art critic Robert Hughes, "longing for concision and grace".

Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "Self Portrait" by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5
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2.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful letters, basic translation, terrible edition
By M. T. Crenshaw on November 2, 2017
Van Gogh's letters are really a treasure that anybody who loves Art, Van Gogh's Art or just great historical figures should read. The Dutch painter is known by his characteristic colourful images and brush strokes, for his insanity and tragic ending. Reading some of the letters to his brother and confidant Theo allows us to leave behind the almost mythical movie-like character and meet the real Vincent, the human being, the man, the soul and the artist he was. His letters are full of realism, understanding and compassion towards human dejection and people living under harsh conditions; they are also full of spirituality and religiosity, of love and admiration for Nature, and of colour. His correspondence is a portal to his feelings of love, dejection, failure, fragility, indecision, anger, resentment, obsession and disappointments; are an example of how Art freed his spirit, a witness of his enthusiasm for literature and painting, as well as depiction of the poverty and misery that surrounded most of his adult life. In short, when reading Van Gogh's correspondence one feels transported to the late 19th century and living in Vincent's shoes. In that regard, the selection of letters presented in this edition helps to get a decent general view of who Van Gogh was.

This book contains a selection of letters from van Gogh to his brother Theo, to his mother, and to artist friends Anton van Rappard and Paul Gauguin. These letters were collected, assembled and numbered by Theo’s wife Johanna, whose Memoir formed the introduction to their original publication and is included here in full, as well.

My main problem with this book, is not with what is in it, but what is not, why is not. Said differently, we are offered an edited version of the person he was, an intentional mutilated view of his whole self, clearly appreciable if you compare any of the letters as presented here and the full reproduction of the letter elsewhere. I find extremely irritating editors with little understanding of what a historical document is trying to 'rewrite' history for the sake of brevity, to please, who?

The complete correspondence of Van Gogh might be a fatty plate for some people to swallow, and that is understandable. If a selection needs to be done for a book to be saleable, profitable and palatable, at least make a selection that is historically sound, well introduced and commented. However, the main sin of this book is not even the selection, but the fact that the letters chosen aren't reproduced in full. It is not that just that the dates, salutations and valedictions have been removed, it is that many times we get 1% of the original letter, a paragraph of a letter that had many pages.

One cannot separate the state of mind, heart and life circumstances of the artist from his art, because they are intrinsically linked. In fact, the editorial house's blah-blah-blah promo says just so. But after doing the mutilation, they say that this edition is "The result is an atypical take on Vincent van Gogh that avoids putting too much stress on his troubled mental state and too much straining by the editor to shape a narrative out of van Gogh's epistolary clues. Instead, we see the thoughtful and contemplative side of this creative genius, as well as his concern for the impact his art and life had on those people closest to him."

One gets more the multifaceted personality of Van Gogh by having his letters not mutilated. In addition, I don't want anybody who is not a super-duper editor with an understanding of what an historical text is, to do anything for me, to produce a mediocre text when a good one can be produced. If you cannot do something well, better do nothing. You might say, the book costs less than 4 bucks, right? but there are editions that offer the complete full unabridged non-mutilated translation of the correspondence for less than that.

Although the letters read well overall and some passages flow and are really enjoyable to read, many times the language is unnecessarily messy, wordy and imprecise. Besides, the many French bits are not translated or annotated, and so if you don't have a medium knowledge of that language, you will find yourself uttering a what?! quite often.

This ebook works well in my device and have had no issues whatsoever. However, I'd like to mention, some little things:
> The book has some of Van Gogh's sketches and paintings mentioned in the letters reproduced in the book. They should have been attached to the letters they relate to, or at least linked from the letter to the sketch and back to the letter. This has not been done, and we can only access the drawings and paintings by going to the index of illustrations at the beginning.
> The analytic index has been linked in Kindle, although the number of page is not reflected, and a reference number appears instead.
> I have noticed some typos, mistakes, and results of the digital conversion that need to be addressed.
-- Proper typos: exhibitiosn (loc. 1023).
-- Unnecessary use of capitals: went into an Inn and I thought that he would stay (Locs 1255-1256). , Poor lad (Loc. 1299)
-- Unnecessary hyphenation of letters, probably the result of the digital conversion, as they might have been in different line breaks when converted to Kindle: bread con- venient for me’ (Loc. 1503).
-- Dubious verb concordance: Those vegetable gardens there have A KIND of old Dutch character which always greatly APPEAL to me. (Locs 2624-2625).
And so on.

It is because of my disappointment with this edition, that I searched for alternatives and came across very cheap and medium-priced books that supersede this edition in everything. A very cheap edition of the full correspondence and paintings (excluding the sketches) of Van Gogh plus the introductory biography by Joanna, can be found on Kindle: [[ASIN:B007H2UTG4 Delphi Complete Works of Vincent van Gogh (Illustrated) (Masters of Art Book 3)]]. If you just want a medium-priced selection of the correspondence, not the whole bunch, but seriously edited and translated, based on sound academic criteria, with high quality reproductions of the sketches and drawings included in the letters you can read the edition by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, and Nienke Bakker of the Van Gogh Museu, titled [[ASIN:B00Q8KV0UA Ever Yours: The Essential Letters]].
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1.0 out of 5 stars This kindle ebook is not the same book/authors as the Paperback in the same listing.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on September 29, 2021
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too many typos in the Kindle version
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shirley degani
5.0 out of 5 stars The True Van Gogh
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on July 10, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars My Favourite Purchase.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on January 17, 2021
4.0 out of 5 stars a must-read book for anyone interested in the life of this great painter
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on December 28, 2020