Dutch author, Jeroen Blokhuis tells Vincent van Gogh’s story as the artist would have told it. The novel depicts van Gogh’s life when he lived in his beloved ‘yellow house’ in Arles, France between August 1888 and December 1889.
“it’s a beautiful little house”
Vincent van Gogh has always been a bit of an enigma. He seemed to be a man who loved people, yet he always felt himself an outcast, an outsider. He seemed tormented with the longing to ‘belong’, to be a part of a community of friends. He felt that in this new place, Arles, he would have more of a chance to be accepted as the people had no preconceptions of him and hopefully they would be more open-minded. He loved companionship, never more so than when he shared his ‘yellow house’ in Arles with fellow artist, Paul Gauguin.
The novel makes mention of van Gogh’s use of the perspective frame. He always struggled with perspective and proportion in his art, and his use of the perspective frame aided him in his endeavors. This practice is more fully explained in this YouTube video.
Jeroen Blokuis tells the story with an artist’s eye. He used detailed description with myriad references to colour, shape, texture, and the nuances of shadow. Van Gogh had a deep admiration for the beauty of nature.
Of van Gogh’s painting “The sunflowers”, Gauguin says “Those sunflowers of yours, are more real than sunflowers”. Van Gogh put the picture in his guest bedroom in Arles, when Gauguin was a guest.
Looking at the artist today, with our 20/20 vision of the man as a true legend, it is interesting to the reader that at one time van Gogh hung his paintings up in a café hoping to attract buyers. When he didn’t have any money to pay his café bill, he would pay with a painting (for which he got about 23 francs back in 1888)
Van Gogh and Gauguin lived together in harmony for the most part. Gauguin cooked the meals. They painted together, drank together and even visited brothels together.
The overlying theme of “The Yellow House” is van Gogh’s loneliness. He feels misunderstood, that he has no ‘true’ friends. He had dreamed of founding an artist’s colony in Arles, but the idea never came to fruition. The novel follows the premise that in a fit of despondency after an argument with Gauguin, van Gogh severed part of his ear off with a razor blade. (Other ideas about this subject can be found here.)
The people of Arles fear his volatility and ‘strangeness’. He is committed to a mental hospital for a year. He has fantasized that his artist’s colony and his acquaintances will be there to welcome him on his return. Alas, upon his return there is no one to meet him.
“van Gogh was a tortured genius”
The last third of the novel was difficult to read. As it is told from van Gogh’s point of view and he was depressed and struggled with madness – his thought processes are disjointed. He ended his life at age thirty-seven…
I recommend this biographical novel to anyone who has an interest in art history, and of the iconic Vincent van Gogh in particular.
From now until May 3rd, there in an international Goodreads giveaway for this novel. If you are interested in reading it I recommend you enter the contest.
Translated from the Dutch by Asja Novak, the novel did not flow seamlessly, but was very enjoyable despite this. I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from the publisher, Holland Park Press in exchange for my honest review.
I did not study art or art history, but I have always been fascinated by van Gogh. It is for that reason that I love the popular song by Don McLean called “Starry, starry, night“. I urge you to click on the link as the YouTube video contains many of van Gogh’s art works as a backdrop to Don McLean’s haunting melody and lyrics.
Jeroen Blokhuis is a Dutch author and a Communications Advisor.
He has published short stories in literary magazines and he also wrote booklets for educational publishers and professional publications about content strategy.