“Vincent Van Gogh: Lust for Life” by Irving Stone

“Just as each vivid brushstroke elevates a Van Gogh masterpiece, every detail of our Wealth Management solutions has been finely crafted to raise banking to an art form.”                           –RBS Punchline (Van Gogh Preferred Banking)

With more than 2,100 artworks (860 oil paintings and 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches) produced  in just over a decade, but not even three-digit art works sold during his lifetime. There can hardly be a life more poignantly painful, solitary and misunderstood and an after-life more glorious. An interesting subject matter!

Seldom do you come across an interesting biography, but in this fictionalized biographical account of Vincent Van Gogh, Irving Stone has accomplished this feat, giving a fluent account of the artist’s life reconstructed from his letters to his brother Theo (approximately 700). Stone has also brilliantly highlighted the art scene during the period, describing several artists who had come in contact with Vincent and their particular artistic style: Seurat’s scientific/intellectual approach; Gauguin’s love of color and Rousseau’s imagination.

Vincent became an artist after failed stints as an art-seller, teacher and minister. During his evangelist assignment at Belgium, his faith in God gets shaken when he encounters the tough lives of coal mine workers where their lives are forsaken for cost savings and this pushes him to start his art career. He then largely trains himself, supported by his brother Theo, working daily as an artist till the sun stroke in Arles makes him lose his mental sanity and he ends up at an asylum in St. Remy and finally shoots himself. Sadly, it was his death, followed by the poignant death of his brother Theo, that brought him the recognition and fame long overdue but unattainable during his lifetime. The story is too tragic and the book is difficult to put down once you begin.

But the book is wanting on many fronts. Firstly, the title is too kitsch and inapt for the story of the protagonist who ended his life at an age of 37. The writing is too impersonal and Stone has botched up fictional additions like a clichéd fictional lover Maya. Stone has also portrayed Vincent as a Christ-like figure suffering physically (hunger struck most of the time), emotionally and mentally but bearing everything quietly without any malice. He has not shed any light on Vincent’s drinking problem and on his emotions other than his insatiable thirst for love.

But despite its flaws, I have to admit, this novel has helped me appreciate Vincent’s works better especially The Potato Eaters that has been described in great detail and the dominance of the color yellow in his paintings. I had never much appreciated Van Gogh’s paintings before, perhaps also due to my predilection towards human subjects and Van Gogh’s towards landscapes.

To sum up, a good biographical account but a poor fiction but a good easy read for anyone keen to know about the artist’s life and the art period then. Another cap in the feather in Vincent’s posthumous glory!!


A dreamer, spoilt by the world of literature trying to find her expression through Art and her sanity through traveling !!

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Posted in Art & Photography, Book Review
3 comments on ““Vincent Van Gogh: Lust for Life” by Irving Stone
  1. Divakar says:

    Nice post Richa 🙂

  2. I agree with you, I did not like the book that much. But it was a detailed account of Van Gogh’s life and it was easy to read.

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