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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) was a troubled soul, one that sought to identify himself through his art. Part of the allure, the attraction, the mystery and the myths that draw people to Van Gogh’s paintings is the mystique that surrounds him. Was he mad? Was his childhood troubled? Or did he suffer some unexplained affliction, something not understood during his lifetime? Did he cut off his own ear? Or was it an accident, part of some rough-housing with his artist friend, Paul Gauguin? Did Van Gogh kill himself? Was that the ultimate tragedy that defined him for generations of artists who followed? Or was the artist hiding some facts, that perhaps some children had accidentally shot him, causing his early death?
So many unanswered questions about a powerfully creative, but sadly disturbed mind. Art historian Liesbeth Heenk opens the door to a deeper understanding of this very troubled artist. Her book, Van Gogh’s Inner Struggle: Life, Work and Mental Illness, uses academic studies by other historians as well as a wealth of correspondence, particularly between the artist and his younger brother, Theo. This book outlines not just the artist’s life, but more significantly, the illness that plagued him and drove him to create and paint as he did. The author/art historian has allowed the artist to speak primarily for himself through all the papers she sourced. With years of study and research behind her, including her PhD thesis on the topic of Van Gogh’s drawings, the author has altered her initial opinion on this artist, allowing, through the artist’s own words, to draw yet another conclusion into the inner workings of this creative mind. This is a very valuable and insightful work, written to instruct both the academic and the art enthusiast. Fascinating.