Top Picks: Van Gogh Books

Van Gogh is so beloved that tickets to many dates of Immersive Van Gogh Chicago, a multimedia exhibit, have already sold out.  

Want to learn more about the man who painted Sunflowers, Starry Night, and The Bedroom--or simply take in the beauty of his art? These books are a few of my favorites.  

Although he began painting relatively late and died of probable suicide at 37, Van Gogh had a tremendous work ethic and left behind 871 paintings. You can see them all in Vincent Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, which takes you from his early, dark paintings of laborers to his colorful experiments in pointillism through his stark, foreboding wheat fields. There’s so much more to Van Gogh than the hits. Personal favorites include The Sower and The Poet's Garden. (The Poet's Garden is one of nine Van Gogh paintings owned by the Art Institute.)                       

While nothing compares to seeing Van Goghs in person, browsing Vincent Van Gogh: A Rizzoli Quadrifolio comes close. In addition to full-page paintings, it features sixteen poster-size pages so vivid you can practically smell the paint! Especially haunting is Portrait of the Artist, with its dizzying swirls of blue.  

Van Gogh’s struggles, his determination to paint in spite of rejection, his lack of critical and financial success, and his often debilitating mental illness are painstakingly documented in Vincent Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. This 900+ page biography is an excellent choice for completists, although its depiction of the artist is somewhat unsympathetic. 

A more likeable, often endearing Van Gogh emerges in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Earnest, passionate, often frustrated and, no doubt, frustrating, Van Gogh was also eloquent: “It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is within me a calm pure harmony and music. In the poorest huts, in the dirtiest corner, I see drawings and pictures. And with irresistible force my mind is drawn towards these things.” 

For an explosion of beauty in a deceptively small package, check out Van Gogh: The Passionate Eye or, as I like to call it, The Portable Van Gogh. It features striking reproductions, the essentials of his biography, anecdotes from his contemporaries, letters, and historic photographs, including the artist as a dour thirteen-year-old.

For children’s titles about Van Gogh, check out Evelyn's blog post Peeking into Van Gogh's Bedroom

What’s your favorite Van Gogh? Tell us in the comments!

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of Chicago Public Library