‘I don’t even dream of exhibiting my work. The idea leaves me absolutely cold…I think a certain popularity the least desirable thing of all,’ wrote Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo in 1882. His work was unsellable in his lifetime, and embarrassed friends to whom he gave his pictures scarcely knew what to do with them. His doctor used one of them to mend a chicken coop, from which he later retrieved it. Now that van Gogh’s pictures command astronomical prices in the international art market, it is inevitable that the centenary of his death should be celebrated by several new biographies.