The Yellow House : Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles, Paperback

The Yellow House : Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles Paperback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


"The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles" is art critic Martin Gayford's account of the tumultuous nine weeks in which the famous nineteenth century artists Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin shared a house in the small French town of Arles.

Two artistic giants. One small house. From October to December 1888 a pair of at the time largely unknown artists lived under one roof in the French provincial town of Arles.

Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh ate, drank, talked, argued, slept and painted in one of the most intense and astonishing creative outpourings in history.

Yet as the weeks passed Van Gogh buckles under the strain, fought with his companion and committed an act of violence on himself that prompted Gauguin to flee without saying goodbye to his friend. "The Yellow House" is an intimate portrait of their time together as well as a subtle exploration of a fragile friendship, art, madness, genius behind a shocking act of self-mutilation that the world has sought to explain ever since. "Gayford's fascinating depiction of the Odd Couple of art history is both moving and riveting". ("Daily Mail"). "Masterly...a wonderfully alert and moving portrait". ("Mail on Sunday"). "Profoundly absorbing. Gayford has reconstructed these tumultuous weeks...the reader lives them day by day, almost minute by minute.

Delightful, utterly fascinating". ("Independent on Sunday"). Martin Gayford is a celebrated art critic and journalist who has written for the "Spectator" and the "Sunday Telegraph" and is the current Chief European Art Critic for Bloomberg.

In his other book, "Constable in Love: Love", Landscape, Money and the Making of a Great Painter", Gayford tells the true story of Romantic painter John Constable's life and loves.




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Most people - even those with only a vague interest in art history - know that Van Gogh painted sunflowers and cut off his own ear. The story of the nine weeks (from October to December 1888) during which Van Gogh and Gauguin lived together in the southern French town of Arles is well-documented, in both books and films. Is there any more, and anything meaningful, to be said on the topic?Gayford deals chronologically with events during those nine weeks, recounting the seemingly superficial details of their everyday lives as well as the extraordinary output of paintings by Van Gogh in particular, many of which would later be recognised as masterpieces. The style of the book falls somewhere between biography and novel - not overly scholarly, but not sensationalist, either. With some sensitivity he shows how Van Gogh and Gauguin (in Gauguin's words, 'the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling inwardly') exchanged ideas and fed off each other's creativity.With hindsight, it's not difficult to see how the set-up was a disaster waiting to happen: the house they shared in Arles was small and they were obliged to share a studio. Neither of them can have been, at the best of times, particularly easy to live with, and Van Gogh's increasing mental stability seems to have been made worse by his inability to sell any of his art (particularly as Gauguin's star seemed to be rising) and his financial dependence upon his brother, Theo.Gauguin had at first been reluctant to join Van Gogh in Arles. Van Gogh dreamt of an artists' colony, a kind of creative utopia peopled by like-minded painters, but it's unlikely Gauguin would have agreed to go there if Theo Van Gogh (an art dealer working in Paris) hadn't offered to pay the rent on the house for him.Gayford provides just enough background information to ground the reader unfamiliar with the lives of the two artists, but it is upon the paintings created during this period that he concentrates, explaining the circumstances behind each picture. (The one criticism I have of this book is that, although lavishly illustrated, the illustrations are presented in rather muddy black and white. These are paintings that really do demand to be reproduced in colour, preferably on good-quality paper.)The Yellow House experiment ended when Van Gogh famously sliced off part of an ear. At that point Gauguin, understandably rattled, fled back to Paris. The two painters never saw each other again, and Van Gogh spent most of the rest of his brief life in a mental institution. The nature of Van Gogh's specific mental or medical condition has been the subject of much debate. Gayford presents a very persuasive argument in favour of manic depression (bipolar disorder), noting that one of his brothers committed suicide, and one of his sisters spent much of her life in a hospital - 'at first angry and suicidal, later almost catatonic'. Although Theo Van Gogh's death (heartbreakingly soon after Vincent's) was the result of syphilis, it seems that he had also suffered from what would now be called depression.Even if you're familiar with this period in Van Gogh's and Gauguin's lives, this is a very readable and thoughtful account of a brief but important period in the careers of two of the most influential 19th century artists. [July 2007]

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