Van Gogh: A Power Seething by Julian Bell is a fresh look at the life of Vincent van Gogh and the man as the artist. Bell creates a picture of Van Gogh as a child and a wayward young man stumbling through life before he gave in to his artistic passion. Bell draws upon historical accounts, medical reports, and Vincent van Gogh’s artworks and numerous letters to fill in the details of Van Gogh’s life and thoughts. Yet, at no point is Bell trying to explain Van Gogh’s actions or ideas. As Bell wrote, “to ask “why the ear” is to seek logic for what’s grimly illogical” (p113).
As an artist himself, Julian Bell has a knack for capturing the artistic moment. At these times, Bell’s prose comes alive describing both Van Gogh the man and Van Gogh the artist. It is at times when the art is not as prevalent in the story that Bell seems to drag and becomes a bit dry. I found this mostly true in the opening chapter of the book. Bell gives enticing background details that led to Vincent van Gogh’s life as an artist, but these biographical passages tended to run dry. It is in the following chapters that Bell seemed to capture the essence of Van Gogh as the artist; here Bell interprets the man through his art and his art through the man. It is in the art that Bell’s prose takes flight and gives new life to Vincent van Gogh’s story.
I have read a few biographies and novels about Vincent van Gogh. I remain in awe of VanGogh’s creations and find his art inspiring. Seeing a new book on the shelf about Vincent van Gogh, I wondered what else is there to know about this enigmatic artist. Much of the basics in Bell’s book, Van Gogh: A Power Seething, can be found in all the books about the artist. Bell’s book succeeds in breathing new life into Vincent van Gogh’s character through an artist’s interpretation of Van Gogh’s art and how his life affected and lived in that art. Van Gogh: A Power Seething is an accessible biography that is easily read, easily understandable, and filled with a similar passion as seen in Van Gogh’s own artwork. Despite the dry biographical bits, it’s a worthwhile read for those enamored with Vincent van Gogh’s art or just curious about Van Gogh’s life.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by New Harvest. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.