Sunday, May 06, 2018

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman is a YA novel about the famous post-Impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh, and his younger brother Theo, who supported Vincent monetarily and emotionally throughout his life and enabled him to have the time and resources to paint.

It was easy to read with very short, easily digestible chapters and sections, and was beautifully structured, creating strong themes of brotherhood, sacrifice, and family to put Vincent and Theo's lives and relationship into context.

Bios can be very dry and so crammed with incidents that it can difficult to seeithe larger picture. Not so with this bio. While Heiligman based her narrative on the hundreds of letters between the brothers as well as between themselves and the rest of their larger family, I never felt overwhelmed with minutiae. The author carefully picked what she wanted to feature: the struggles Vincent had in deciding on a fulfilling career (he trained to be a preacher before devoting himself to art), the struggles each brother had romantically, and finally and sadly, their struggles with depression and mental illness.

I was absolutely fascinated to learn how Vincent taught himself to draw and paint, repeatedly doing the exercises in drafting manuals, and then graduating to the human form. I was also surprised to learn that Vincent was adept at languages--speaking English, French, and (I think) German, as well as his native Dutch.

And, I was surprised to learn of the depth of Theo's support of Vincent. There is really no way that the world would have Vincent had Theo not sent him money to live on, sent him art supplies, promoted his work, and married the woman who continued that promotion after both brothers died. Theo was an art dealer for his entire working life, and represented many of the Impressionists and post-Impressionists in real time, and promoted their work and efforts to transform the art world.

 I instinctively liked the cover of the book, but came to love it after reading this tidbit about the hats.

I've always liked Van Gogh's paintings--my parents had two framed prints that graced our living room while I was growing up--but reading about his life and his relationship with Theo gave me a much deeper appreciation for his genius and the gift he gave us through his art.

And yes, I am planning on seeing a lot of Van Gogh paintings as well as the other Impressionist and post-Impressionists painters' works this summer in Paris and Normandy.


  1. The book sounds very interesting and worthwhile. I also did not know much about Theo. I always think about how many potential great artists never had the chance due to circumstance. I also like Van Gogh's paintings. I wish that I knew more about art in general.

  2. Yes the brothers are quite fascinating. I have read a bit of their letters and have been to the asylum where Vincent stayed in Saint Remy Provence. Love his art!

  3. I knew of Vincent Van Gogh but never heard about his brother Theo. As you say without Theo there is no Vincent and so I am glad that this novel honors Theo's contribution to the art world as well.

  4. I too felt a strong appreciation for Van Gogh since childhood. This book sounds like a great introduction to Van Gogh and his story...a good jumping off point for readers who might seek out more, like the published letters, etc.

  5. I love Van Gogh's paintings! I even made a trip out to Auvers-sur-Oise to visit their graves the last time I was in Paris. (They're buried side by side, which is fitting, don't you think?)

  6. Fascinating.
    Like to meet'm in
    Decide which path, child,
    as am I... we're all
    children under God.
    God bless your indelible soul.