Vincent and Theo: the Van Gogh brothers - a book review by Rebekah

Deborah Heiligman’s book, Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, delves into the key relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo Van Gogh. Beginning with their life as children, Heiligman depicts the events that shaped their lifelong bond, such as a family pledge to love and care for each other. Theo and Vincent in particular take this pledge to heart and become each other's best friends. In the later years of their life both Theo and Vincent face several periods of hardship ranging from financial trouble to severe physical and mental illnesses. However, through these ups and downs, both brothers remained a source of steadfast love and support for one another.

From her study of six hundred and fifty-eight letters from Vincent to Theo, Heiligman weaves a beautiful yet tragic biography of the two brothers. She writes in such a way that one cannot help but wonder: What comes next? And, how will the brothers overcome this obstacle? By using imagery and other literary devices, Heiligman illustrates the emotions experienced by the brothers and clearly conveys it to the reader. In addition, she includes several pictures of Vincent’s artwork that show the development of his artistic style over the years. I personally loved that Heiligman decided to include these images, as it not only shows Vincent’s artistic development, but also helps the reader to understand Vincent’s personality and mindset at different points in his life. On another note, the language of the book is not too complex and the book itself is well organized, making it quite easy for the reader to comprehend. Overall, I thought this was a very good book, and believe it would appeal not only to those who are interested in art or history, but also to a wider audience.

I would recommend this book to my peers as it provides us with a unique perspective on Vincent and Theo that many of us have never seen before. In this book, Heiligman illustrates the beautiful relationship between Vincent and his brother Theo, and effectively grasps the reader’s attention. Further, the reader can feel the powerful, raw emotion felt by the main characters in various instances throughout the book. This incredible detail, which allows the readers to paint a picture of the story and feel these strong emotions, makes it a great read, and a very difficult book to put down.

Five trivia questions (and answers):

1. Which brother is depicted in the portrait of a man with a blue suit and straw hat? Theo (p.256).

2. How old was Vincent when he started working at Goupil’s (his uncle’s firm in The Hague)? 16 (p.45).

3. Which eastern style of art strongly influenced Vincent’s paintings? Japanese (p. 241).

4. Which famous painter was Vincent living with when he cut off his left ear? Paul Gauguin (p. 300).

5. Who published a collection of Vincent’s letters to Theo? Johanna Bonger - Theo’s wife (p. 408).

Discussion questions:

 1. How significant was Johanna Bonger in both Vincent and Theo’s lives? She was incredibly significant. She brought joy and happiness into both of the brothers lives. She continued their work (showcasing/publicizing Vincent’s art) after they had passed.

2. What art style was Vincent most influenced by? Vincent was heavily influenced by many art styles such as Dutch and Japanese. Each art style significantly influenced him in a different way.

3. How did the values the Van Gogh children were raised with influence them later in their lives? There are numerous ways the values the Van Gogh children were raised with influenced them later in their lives. For one, they were raised to love and take care of their family above all else. This heavily impacted the way Theo and Vincent interacted with each other when they were adults.

Posted by ElaineN on January 13, 2021