Vincent declared himself an artist in 1880, at the age of twenty-seven. He had only ten years left to live. Those years are chronicled with missionary zeal. Crisis follows crisis with numbing regularity. Perhaps that is how it was; what we lack in a treatment of this sort is a sense of what it meant, then and since. The pursuit is indefatigable but the life is shapeless. The death is re-examined, plausibly, but the significance of the life is never considered. A brief epilogue serves to reunite Vincent with Theo in the wheatfields of Auvers. It is as if the authors’ curiosity is sated with his interment. “Finally, Vincent had his reunion on the heath.” So it ends. The starry, starry afterlife is a void. The depth of his self-knowledge is unplumbed. What are we to make of this remarkable creature and his torments? How are we to weigh his work? On these questions Van Gogh: The Life keeps its silence. Vincent Van Gogh subscribed to an art of feeling – “heart-broken, and therefore heartbreaking”. He was a great painter, and very nearly a great writer. His painting is peculiarly life-affirming. His writing is truly heartbreaking. “I do not say that my work is good, but it’s the least bad that I can do. All the rest, relations with people, is very secondary, because I have no talent for that. I can’t help it.”
more from Alex Danchev at the TLS here.