Vincent Van Gogh is the biographer’s dream. The hauntingly expressive paintings and the tragic life from which they grew are illuminated throughout by the hundreds of vivid letters the artist wrote, describing in poignant detail the miseries, spiritual quest and occasional splendour of his footloose existence. Small wonder then that Van Gogh has attracted a vast range of commentary, from (to cite a handful) the inspired rant of Artaud’s Van Gogh le suicidé de la société through Bruce Bernard’s quirkily revealing Vincent by Himself to Martin Gayford’s graphic vignette The Yellow House.
Van Gogh is also the biographer’s nightmare. His life and work have become so familiar, not only from the wealth of written accounts, but, above all, from direct experience of his paintings. Few pictures are better known or more loved than Starry Night or the self-portraits, whether seen in reproduction