"Van Gogh's Dream", a book based on a concept by Dominique-Charles Janssens and published by Mnestra, is a fascinating look at the life and art of Vincent Van Gogh which concentrates in great part on the time the painter spent in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. It is also a summary catalogue of the 80 paintings Van Gogh produced while living there.
The title of the book comes from one of the expressed wishes of Van Gogh, as written in one of his letters to his brother Theo: "Some day or other, I believe I will find a way to have my own exhibition in a cafe." Unfortunately, that dream would only be realized after his death by suicide.
The title also is an oblique reference to a modern-day effort by the Institut Van Gogh to bring one of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings back to the Auberge Ravoux (the artist cafe where Van Gogh occupied room No. 5 in 1890 while he was in Auvers) in homage to that dream of long-ago. The Institut believes that the cafe setting would be an ideal one in which to view one of Van Gogh's paintings and reflect on the life and art of the artist.
The first section of the book, which is also titled "Van Gogh's Dream" presents the mission of the Institut Van Gogh, and gives the reader a short video tour of the Auberge Ravoux, which has been renovated and gloriously restored to the beautiful cafe it was at the end of the nineteenth century. This restoration and preservation is also part of the mission of the Institut Van Gogh. The beautiful pictures and video really make me wish I could go there and sit at one of the tables where giants of art and culture once sat.
The main body of the book is divided in two parts: Van Gogh's Life and Work, and Van Gogh: A Review. The first section contains biographical information about Vincent Van Gogh; a very good introduction to the painter's techniques (especially useful is an exploration of Van Gogh's use of perspective); an extensive catalogue of the 80 paintings the artist produced while he was in Auvers; and also the last letter Vincent wrote to his brother Theo.
The biographical information is an excellent summary of Van Gogh's life. The addition of video testimony by various experts, as well as photos and relevant paintings really made Vincent Van Gogh come alive for me. While people who are already familiar with the artist's life may not find much new here, newcomers will find fascinating insights and interesting details about the man and his work. I found the discussion about Van Gogh's troubles with mental illness particularly fascinating; it went beyond the simple stereotypes about the man and gave really interesting information.
The techniques section presents Van Gogh's color theory, and goes in to great detail about his use of perspective and double perspective. By using vibrant examples from his works and giving a clear and easy to understand explanation of Van Gogh's ideas and techniques, the people at Institut Van Gogh afford a layman such as myself a much better insight into Van Gogh's genius. Not being much of an art connoisseur myself, I really found the information extremely useful when looking at the 80 paintings presented in the longest section of the book.
The paintings can be seen in rough chronological order, or can be seen in various groupings: Landscapes, Portraits, Still Lifes and The Village. There are also two videos where art experts introduce the paintings in the catalogue and expound on their favorites among the works. It should be understood that this book is not an in-depth exploration of each painting, but rather an overview of Van Gogh's output during his time in Auvers. People looking for extensive artistic discussion will not find it here, but those who are unfamiliar with Van Gogh and who want an accessible and lively introduction to the man and his work will be well served by "Van Gogh's Dream".
The final section of the first part of the book presents Van Gogh's last letter to his brother Theo. Here, you can see a complete facsimile of the letter so it can be read in its original form, if the reader can understand French. There is also a transcript of the letter in English. There are also four beautiful sketches that form part of this letter, and the reader fill find links to corresponding paintings in Van Gogh's oeuvre, as well as a full audio description of the Daubigny Garden sketch.
The second part of the book, Van Gogh: A Review, goes into the details of how Van Gogh's work lived on after his death. In sections titled Van Gogh for the Masses, Van Gogh in the Cinema, and Van Gogh's Legacy, the reader will find extensive details on the way Van Gogh's art has been presented to the world in the last hundred and twenty years, the way in which Vincent Van Gogh has been portrayed in the movies, and the myriad ways in which Van Gogh has influenced the artists that came after him.
I found this whole section very enlightening, because it presents information not often found in conventional art book.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book. The illustrations, the audio, and the video really made things come alive for me. The graphics are gorgeous and the colors are rich and vibrant. The experts gave wonderful insights without being pedantic and going on so long that my interest flagged. The book is very well laid-out and extremely clear in its presentation of the final period of Van Gogh's life. The passion that the Institut Van Gogh has for its mission is eminently clear. Dominique-Charles Janssens is a wonderful ambassador for that mission, and from his video chats, he seems to be someone that anyone curious about Van Gogh would love to sit with in the Auberge Ravoux, while he regales his companions with tales of the life and works of the tragic artist. Anyone wanting to know more about Van Gogh's later life or coming for the first time to discover who he was will find this book a wonderful addition to their iPad library.
If all art books were like this, I would definitely have taken Art History at university!