I'm chagrined that it's taken me nearly a year to write a proper review of Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith's monumental new biography of Vincent van Gogh. In my own poor defense a number of Van Gogh-related projects (which brought me to Amsterdam twice in 2012) were an ongoing (but pleasant) distraction. More to the point, this biography was not something I wanted to rush through. A few early (and, not surprisingly, hugely positive) reviews came out just days after the book's publication. "How is it possible," I wondered, "to properly read and evaluate such an incredible resource so quickly?" Which is not to slight any of the early reviewers, of course. In addition, I found the wonderful online notes for the biography (www.vangoghbiography.com) to be an endless (and quite marvelous) diversion. I was forever running between book and computer to delve into further detail of yet another new and insightful fact that was a revelation to me.
Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have written the authoritative biography of Vincent van Gogh. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam calls Van Gogh: The Life "The definitive biography for decades to come." The Wall Street Journal describes it as "captivating." High praise and more than well deserved.
I admire many of the earlier biographies, but the Naifeh/Smith work stands out as the leading and only Van Gogh biography for Van Gogh scholars and enthusiasts alike. The book took more than ten years to write and research and yet, in a work of this vast scope, one could easily assume that the effort spanned twenty or thirty years.
Van Gogh: The Life is an absolutely remarkable exploration of Vincent van Gogh and his work. The material, as I've mentioned, has been covered before, but never so thoroughly and with such thoughtful attention to detail. Naifeh and Smith turn old myths and fallacies inside out and present the life of Van Gogh in an entirely new and remarkable light.
I have an entire shelf of Van Gogh biographies and know the subject well. Or at least I thought that I did. I can honestly say that while reading Van Gogh: The Life nearly every page brought forth new revelations and surprises. A work this beautifully researched is bound to enter "uncharted territory," and this biography is absolutely outstanding in its scope, attention to detail, scholarly diligence and insight. I can honestly say that, for the first time ever, I actually felt that I was reading about a living, breathing, deeply flawed and entirely exceptional human being.
In addition, many of the past Van Gogh biographies (and Van Gogh references in general) can suffer from a certainly dryness of style. Van Gogh: The Life, however, is immediately engaging in its approach. It's a rare feat for a biographical work of this depth to be ceaselessly entertaining as it also explores its subject matter in minute and brilliant detail.
In the end Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith is an absolutely extraordinary and astonishing book. Without question, this is the most superb Van Gogh biography ever written--indeed, one of the best written biographies ever published.
|I list several Van Gogh biographies below. All interesting and worthy works in their own right, but there's no question that the first stop for anyone interested in the life of Vincent van Gogh should be the Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith biography, Van Gogh: The Life above.|
The book falters from time to time, particularly with the sexual references which seem out of place and contrived. Johanna's final resignation to Vincent is also a bit disappointing. But an excellent exploration, nonetheless, of the admirable life of Johanna van Gogh-Bonger.
Of Particular Interest . . . .
Return to main Van Gogh Gallery page