If we were to think of one universally famous name which most perfectly embodied the idea of the artist as a tormented, suffering and near-sacred being, it would almost certainly be that of Vincent van Gogh. What other member of the artistic fraternity suffered quite so famously? That other Dutchman, Rembrandt? Well, to an extent, but the life of Rembrandt does not touch us in quite the way that Van Gogh’s does. Rembrandt may have suffered dire misfortunes, but the scale of his calamities – who really feels for a bankrupt who has over-extended himself? – does not match that of Van Gogh, that self-destructive, Christ-like ear-lopper.
But it is not the art alone with Van Gogh. It is also the letters. He was a quite remarkable letter writer, and he left us 819 of them, the great majority (651) to his brother Theo. His greatness as a letter writer is well known and his