Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Yellow House - Martin Gayford

The Yellow House
Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles
Martin Gayford
Little, Brown and Company


For two months at the end of 1888, a pair of struggling artists shared a house in Arles. For those two months, although they would never see one another after, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin profoundly influenced one another’s works. This pivotal time in Arles ends with van Gogh cutting off part of one of his ears during a psychological breakdown. During this time, the two men lived together, ate together, dreamed and despaired and painted together; each one influencing the other through ideas, inspirations, or use of materials.

In the months that led up to what would be known to van Gogh as “the Crisis,” the two artists created masterpieces that are still studied today as exemplars of their school. The author includes illustrations of many of these paintings, but they are, of necessity, in black and white. Do yourself a favor and look them up on the internet as you read the author’s informed but easily accessible discussions about techniques and use of color in various works.

It might seem that a work depicting the day-to-day lives of two artists would be rather dry. On the contrary, the author does a wonderful job of fashioning a narrative as dramatic as any fiction. Even a casual student of art history will be enthralled by this account of that groundbreaking fall of 1888. Readers looking for fascinating character studies will be no less pleased. This book really conveys what it might have been like to be present in that studio, in the presence of undiscovered greatness.

Rating: 8 1/2
November 2006
ISBN# 0-316-76901-0 (hardcover)


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