Van Gogh: The Life

Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Jackson Pollock: An American Saga) have produced a captivating tale of a troubled soul, the post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, one of the most influential artists in history and the epitome of the temperamental artist enslaved by his passions. The authors explore van Gogh’s turbulent relationships with family and friends, investigate his many pursuits—from art dealer in a top hat, to ascetic, to itinerant preacher (reprimanded for excessive zeal)—and plumb the depths of his torment. As his behavior grew increasingly erratic, van Gogh became more dependent upon his brother Theo for support, but his continuing barroom adventures and a choleric temper undermined their relationship. The authors also offer evidence that van Gogh probably didn’t commit suicide, as is widely believed, rather his fatal wounds were caused by an accidental shooting by a friend’s brother. Other biographies have been authoritative but boring, or entertaining but fiction. This work melds good scholarship with good storytelling.