Coming in April 2017!
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
Laura Godwin Books/Henry Holt & Co., April 2017
Ages 14 and up
9780805093391, $19.99 hardcover
The world would not have Vincent van Gogh’s art without his brotherTheo.
Vincent: passionate, determined, yet desperately lost on his life’s journey. Theo, his younger brother: steady, constant, dependable, yet lonely.
The brothers’ friendship was stormy, passionate enduring, essential, a work of art in itself.
Theo was Vincent’s champion, Vincent Theo’s inspiration.
For the past five years I immersed myself in the lives of Vincent and Theo van Gogh. Drawing mostly on the 658 letters from Vincent to Theo, and the 40 we have of Theo’s to Vincent, this book tells the story of two dramatic lives intertwined.
I hope you enjoy walking alongside Vincent and Theo on their journey of love, loss, and towering achievement.
"As teenagers, the Van Gogh brothers, Vincent and Theo, pledged to “be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art.” In this intensive exploration of their turbulent lives, Heiligman (Charles and Emma) focuses on their complex relationship and anchoring mutual bond. Writing in present tense, she follows them from their childhood closeness as two of six children of a Protestant pastor in the heavily Catholic Dutch village of Zundert into their contrasting adulthoods in France: painter Vincent’s life was precarious and erratic, while art dealer Theo’s was more stable and decorous, if often lonely. Heiligman tells the brothers’ story in short chapters, sometimes just scenes, and occasionally offers what she calls “croquis” (sketches) to give a better sense of “someone whose whole being cannot be captured on paper in one steady view. Like Theo.” She also recounts, in exhaustive detail, Vincent’s frequent cycles of descent into mental illness and subsequent rebounds, as well as the way the brothers alternately clashed with and clung to each other. Extensive back matter includes a character list, timeline, bibliography, endnotes, and author’s note. Ages 14–up."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Vincent van Gogh is perhaps one of the best-known artists today, but it’s likely he wouldn’t be nearly as famous had it not been for his brother Theo, an art dealer who supported his troubled brother and championed his paintings until his own untimely death, only months after Vincent’s. While each brother had a pivotal career in his own right, Heiligman (Charles and Emma, 2009) plumbs their correspondence, both to each other and beyond, and zeroes in on their relationship, which was fraught with a brotherly combination of competition, frustration, and, ultimately, adoration. Structured as a sort of gallery of key moments in the brothers’ lives, the book covers their childhood and the influence of their tight-knit family; Vincent’s peripatetic, sometimes scandalous pursuit of a vocation; Theo’s dogged commitment to not only his own career but cultivating Vincent’s; and their ultimate demises, both of which are heartbreaking, in their own ways. In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined, particularly during the intense, almost manic flurry of work he produced in his last few years. This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. Art-loving teens will be captivated."—Booklist, starred review
"As she did in Charles and Emma (2009), her biography of the Darwins, Heiligman renders a nuanced portrait of the complex, devoted, and enduring relationship between the Van Gogh brothers. Though Vincent and Theo unmistakably looked like brothers, they could not have been more opposite in habits and temperament; still, they pledged to each other as teenagers “to keep the bond between them strong and intimate.” Heiligman explains: “They will be more than brothers, more than friends. They will be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art….And they will, when needed, carry each other’s parcels.” She reveals their unfailing devotion to this pledge by drawing on the hundreds of letters they exchanged in their tragically short lifetimes, quoting extensively and adeptly integrating them into the narrative. She frames the story of their relationship as a series of gallery exhibits (introducing each with a black-and-white reproduction of a representative piece) and varies her writing style to reflect Vincent’s work in different media such as sketching, drawing, and painting. Some depictions are vivid and richly textured, like Vincent’s oil paintings, while others are lean and sharp, like his sketches and drawings. Her exegesis of a lesser-known painting, The Laakmolen near The Hague (The Windmill) , which she sees as essential to understanding the brothers’ relationship, features typically painstaking description and analysis. It and several others are reproduced in a full-color insert (not seen for review). A remarkably insightful, profoundly moving story of fraternal interdependence and unconditional love." (timeline, author’s note, biography, source notes, index) (Biography. 14-18)—Kirkus, starred review
"Heiligman (Charles and Emma) again examines the impact of a family member on her main subject, this time unpacking the friendship between artist Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo. After vividly setting the stage with brief sections that introduce Vincent and Theo near the end of their lives, Heiligman takes readers back to their beginnings. We learn of other siblings and of supportive parents; we gain a sense of their childhoods in their father’s parsonage. Structured as a walk through an art museum, the book proceeds through the years, each section a gallery: “Gallery Two: Dangers (1873–1875)”; “Gallery Three: Missteps, Stumbles (1875 1879).” We see Vincent moving restlessly from one job to another, at times acting and dressing oddly, walking huge distances when short on funds, coping with unrequited love, and slowly embracing the life of an artist. We see Theo, the art dealer, struggling with his own trials, consistently supporting Vincent throughout his life. Heiligman mostly employs a present-tense, purposely staccato narration that effectively heightens the brothers’ emotional intensity, their sufferings and pleasures (physical, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual), and, most of all, Vincent’s wild and original art. The layout, which incorporates sketches, subheads, and a generous use of white space, is a calming counterpoint to the turbulent narrative. Documenting the author’s research involving visits to sites, along with academic and primary sources, the extensive back matter includes a list of significant people, a timeline, a bibliography, thorough citations, and an author’s note. The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love."—Horn Book, starred review