On Our Shelves
“Books and reality and art are the same kind of thing for me.”
One of the most famous artists in history, Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) was also a man with another powerful passion—for books. An insatiable reader, Van Gogh spent his life hungrily consuming as many books as he could. He read, reread, and copied out books in Dutch, English, and French. He knew many passages by heart from works by Dickens, Zola, Shakespeare, and Maupassant, among many others. As he wrote to his brother, Theo, in one of their hundreds of letters: “I have a more or less irresistible passion for books.”
In Vincent’s Books, Mariella Guzzoni explores Van Gogh’s life as a voracious bookworm, noting what he read, what he wrote about, and how his love of reading influenced his art. She walks us through his life, chapter by chapter: from the religious aspirations of his early adulthood, to his decision to be a painter, to the end of his tragically short life. He moved from Holland to Paris to Provence; at each moment, ideas he encountered in books defined and guided his thoughts and his worldview. Van Gogh wrote with eloquence and insight about what he was reading in his letters to Theo, referring to at least two hundred authors. Books and readers are frequent subjects of his paintings, and Guzzoni highlights over one hundred of these works, such as Still Life with Bible in the Van Gogh Museum and his vivid paintings of l’Arlesienne.
A gorgeously illustrated biography that will appeal to any booklover, Vincent’s Books takes us on a fresh, fascinating journey through the pages of a beloved artist’s life.
Explore Van Gogh’s musings on his favorite writers, including
Thomas à Kempis, Charles Blanc, Honoré de Balzac, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Dickens, Erckmann-Chatrian, Homer, Victor Hugo, Pierre Loti, Jules Michelet, William Shakespeare, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Émile Zola
About the Author
Mariella Guzzoni is an independent scholar and art curator living in Bergamo, Italy. Over many years, she has collected editions of the books that Vincent van Gogh read and loved.
"Vincent van Gogh’s letters are almost as wonderful as his paintings and in one of them he writes, 'I have a more or less irresistible passion for books.' Guzzoni traces that passion in the beautifully designed Vincent’s Books. If you need a gift for a book or art lover, this is it."
— Washington Post
“Guzzoni’s book is charming, enlightening, and ever unpretentious. . . . Appositely illustrated—the color reproduction is notably rich and convincing."
— New York Review of Books
"[A] detailed and beautifully written account of what the artist read—and how it influenced his art."
— Art Newspaper
“Guzzoni tells us in much greater detail about all those books [Von Gogh] read, and when and why he did so. It also shows us the paintings in which books are a subject: his own paintings, and those by some of the painters to whom he was indebted. . . . Reading was a dogged, lifelong pursuit of a bare-knuckled authenticity of feeling, a peeling away of all pretense in pursuit of a directness and an honesty that immediately fed into how he saw the world.”
“Guzzoni’s research provides an incredibly refreshing take on one of history’s well-known artists, and presents even common knowledge with a discerning eye and an authentic voice. Vincent’s Books is a triumph for both Van Gogh fanatics and bookworms alike.”
— Art New England
"During this meandering journey through Holland, Paris, Provence, and beyond, Guzzoni reveals just how much Van Gogh’s favorite books and authors defined his life and art."
"[An] innovative approach to a biography based in a reliable source of primary information. Artists who are interested in imitating the positive elements of Van Gogh’s life, research and art will find much to be inspired and to learn from in these pages. And researchers who are contemplating the reasons for Van Gogh’s unique style, and those who have since followed his lead will find Guzzoni’s commentary useful."
— Pennsylvania Literary Journal
"Vincent’s Books contains seven chapters, each reflecting a transformative moment in his personal and artistic journey from a black and white world toward an Ezekiel-like glimpse into the sometimes phantasmagorical wheel of color to which we’ve become accustomed in Van Gogh’s work—a journey into coal mines, the street life of Paris, the wide open landscapes of Arles, and even a side dalliance into the mystical simplicity of Japanese art."
"Guzzoni employs extensive research in her quest to unearth the literature that influenced not only his art, but every aspect of his life—from works of fiction to museum guides and artistic magazines. Accompanied by reproductions of his paintings, letters and the books that that he loved, it is a fascinating study of Van Gogh’s creative inspiration."
— The Art Society
"From childhood through to the end of his life (and from deliberating a career as a pastor to his decision to become a painter), [Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him] examines the texts that Van Gogh treasured, by writers such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Zola and Maupassant."
In Vincent’s Books, Mariella Guzzoni aims "to map an artistic-intellectual journey through his favourites, in a continuous dialogue between his work as an artist and the key authors and illustrators that inspired him."
— The New European
"...a fascinating introduction to a complex and wondrous creative life."
— The Arts Desk
"[Vincent's Books] is a luminous joy to read and pore over. It is also a beautifully wrought artefact in itself, which you finish wanting both to read more deeply and widely and to look at Van Gogh’s works with fresh eyes."
— Dublin Review of Books
"Vincent's Books is one of the best written and most expertly researched books about Van Gogh that I've read in years. Guzzoni does a masterful job. . . . Vincent's Books provides wonderful insights into this profound and complex relationship between painter and writer."
— The Van Gogh Gallery