VIncent van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist

bk_vangogh_265• Grade Range: 5th-high school
• Biography related title
• Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
• Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist
• Publisher: New York, Delacorte Press
• 2001
• 144 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-38532-806-7
• Awards: Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, 2001~ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2001~ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2001~School Library Journal: Best Books of the Year~The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: Blue Ribbon Book~Booklist: Editor’s Choice~A New York Public Library Book for the Teenage
• Author’s website:

Vincent van Gogh deserves to be known as more than a crazy artist who cut off his ear and painted some of the world’s most valuable art. This biography tells the detailed and very human story of van Gogh’s complex personality and his successful struggle to find his calling and create great work.

Greenberg and Jordan have collaborated together on many award-winning books about art and artists; their understanding of artists and their sympathy for them comes through in this sensitive and nuanced biography of van Gogh. The letters between Vincent and his brother Theo, among many other primary sources, allow the authors to let readers in on van Gogh’s thoughts, and also give glimpses of what friends and relatives thought of him. We learn that van Gogh struggled to find his calling, trying several different careers before he settled on painting. The authors do a good job of showing the evolution of van Gogh’s personality and the trouble he put his family through as they endeavored to help him.

No matter how interesting the details of van Gogh’s life are, it is because of his work we remember him. Excerpts from letters begin each chapter and offer insight into his art: ”I try to put the same sentiment into the landscape as I put into the figure.” Greenberg and Jordan devote a lot of text to van Gogh’s descriptions of his painting process: what it was he was trying to capture and to evoke. The reader gets a great education in art history while being given intimate glimpses into a fascinating and compulsive genius’ mind. While the book has many color plates, they are clumped together and not all the paintings talked about are pictured. For kids with Internet access, images are only a click away, but others will need to flip back and forth and check out other books to see the art.

Van Gogh’s short life span and his late adoption of painting mean that all of his work was completed in ten years, with an astonishing flurry of production at the very end of his life. This manic energy comes across, pushing through the authors’ elegant prose, making the biography crackle with energy. Readers come away with a strong sense of the passion van Gogh poured into his art. We also learn of the importance of Theo’s wife Jo; it was she who faithfully kept the paintings others urged her to throw out. She collected and catalogued letters, drawings and paintings, arranged exhibits and wrote the first biography of van Gogh. It is thanks to her that Greenberg and Jordan can show readers his vibrant art and enable us to relive his story.

Front matter includes contents, a map of the areas van Gogh lived and a prologue that vividly imagines van Gogh as he heads out from Arles to paint Harvest at Le Crau. Back matter includes a helpful biographical time line, a list of museums where his work is located, a glossary of artists and terms, extensive notes, which are divided by chapter, an extensive bibliography, photography credits and a brief biographic sketch of the authors.


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