Brian Dillon

Lost Soles

A Shoe Story: Van Gogh, the Philosophers and the West


Harbour Books 227pp £14 order from our bookshop

‘In the mere sight of an old pair of shoes there is something profoundly melancholy’, wrote Flaubert to Louise Colet in 1846. Vincent van Gogh may have had Flaubert’s letter in mind (as well as a drawing by Millet of his own wooden sabots) while he worked on his series of paintings of boots and shoes, begun in 1886. It is said that the artist, a compulsive walker, bought and wore an old pair of carter’s boots in preparation for at least one of these pictures. Paul Gauguin, after his friend’s death, claimed that van Gogh had painted the very boots he wore when he walked from Holland to Belgium as a young preacher. None of this is verifiable; even if it were, van Gogh’s footwear would surely remain mysterious: battered, abandoned and self-involved.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Since Dylan’s commercial and ideological heyday, the intrusion of sociology, semiology and post-structuralist thou… ,
    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,