Reviews for The Yellow House:
Richard Cork on the strange friendship of Van Gogh and Gauguin as revealed in Martin Gayford’s The Yellow House
Across the world, people who know nothing about art have all heard of Vincent van Gogh’s torment. By slashing off his left ear, wrapping it in newspaper and presenting it to a prostitute at the local brothel, he became an icon of suffering. So how can Martin Gayford’s new book add anything new to our knowledge of the anguished Vincent?
The answer lies in Gayford’s adroit decision to focus on the nine momentous weeks leading up to Van Gogh’s crisis. He recreates the everyday details of life at the Yellow House in Arles. Here, in an ancient French town near the Mediterranean coast, the 35-year-old Dutchman hoped to establish a new artists’ colony – a studio of the south where avant-garde painters would be liberated by the sun’s revelatory impact. As a first step, Van Gogh spent five months in 1888 persuading Gauguin to join him. Five years older than Van Gogh, and a formidable leader of rebellious young artists, Gauguin was impoverished. So he finally accepted the invitation to stay at the Yellow House, and Gayford describes how the exhausted Gauguin arrived at five in the morning after a two-day train journey from Brittany.
Housemates from Hell – book review by Sebastien Smee
You know the plot already: Van Gogh and Gauguin establish themselves in the south of France, juiced up with communal idealism, hoping to make a go of it: ‘a studio of the south’. They fall out, Vincent cuts off his ear, delivers it to a local prostitute, goes home and falls asleep. Gauguin leaves the next morning, eventually ends up in Tahiti. There’s a movie, starring Kirk Douglas, a spate of blockbuster exhibitions, and even a song by Don McLean.
Is this a story that really needs revisiting?
Actually, yes. The melodrama of those two months in Arles has been oversold, it’s true. But here is a book to remind us that the episode is not just a gigantic myth; that it is tragic, pathetic, unfathomable, and so strange it simply has to be real.
Nine tumultuous weeks in Arles – book review by Michael Prodger
In the late autumn of 1888 Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh spent a little over two months living and working together. It is a wonder they lasted so long.
The two men had been brought together by Van Gogh’s elder brother Theo, who was Gauguin’s dealer in Paris and Vincent’s sole source of money. The idea that they should live together had many advantages: Gauguin could keep an eye on the unstable Vincent on his brother’s behalf, the two impecunious artists could share expenses, and together they would form a ‘Studio of the South’, a quasi-monastic artistic community. The Yellow House, enthused Vincent, would be ‘an artists’ house, but not affected, on the contrary, nothing affected’.
They made a very odd pairing, even for artists. Gauguin was 40 and Van Gogh 35 when they shared the Yellow House, a small, spartan dwelling on an unassuming square in Arles, a city which had once been the capital of the western Roman empire but had since fallen on hard times. Gauguin had a small avant-garde reputation and a considerably larger opinion of himself; Van Gogh was unknown and felt himself to be unworthy, an apprentice in everything.
Review by Sue Gaisford
The major crisis in Vincent van Gogh’s life began with his throwing a glass of absinthe at Paul Gauguin in a café near the house they shared in Arles. He missed, and Gauguin bundled him out and put him to bed where he fell into a very deep sleep. The next day Gauguin wrote to Vincent’s brother Theo, an art-dealer in Paris, that they were “absolutely unable to live side by side”. Within a fortnight he had decamped to a hotel and Vincent, left alone, cut off his ear, washed and carefully wrapped it in newspaper and delivered it to a girl called Rachel who worked at their favourite brothel. Then he went back to bed.
Understandably enough, on unwrapping this grisly and unsolicited gift, Rachel passed out cold. The police were summoned, found Vincent’s inert body in the blood-boltered house, leapt to several wrong conclusions and accused Gauguin of murder. It was Christmas 1888, the end of an occasionally beautiful friendship.