Book Review: Exploring Van Gogh’s obsession with the great outdoors

A self-portrait by Van Gogh. (Photo courtesy: Musée d'Orsay)
Updated 29 April 2018

Book Review: Exploring Van Gogh’s obsession with the great outdoors

BEIRUT: “Van Gogh and the Seasons” by Sjraar Heugten is based on an exhibition held at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia and celebrates the artist’s connection with the natural world throughout his career.
The sumptuous coffee table book is a work of art in and of itself, but it is not light on text. Rather, the book features excerpts from the artist’s prolific correspondence. The Dutch post-Impressionist artist is one of the most famous painters in the world, but he was also a gifted letter writer as the book shows.
Readers can expect picturesque scenes of Arles, a town in the south of France, which Van Gogh described in a letter to his sister as boasting “a landscape (that) takes on tons of gold of every shade — green-gold, yellow-gold, red-gold, ditto bronze, copper. In short, from lemon-yellow to the full yellow.”
Speaking of yellow, it would be near impossible to collect together Van Gogh’s work without a nod to his iconic sunflowers. The artist painted several versions of his famous vase of subjects, the most well-known of which depicts yellow flowers in a yellow jug against a yellow wall — a fountain of colors brimming with ochres, golds and shades of corn.
This fascinating book explores Van Gogh’s captivation with nature and seasonal changes and takes the reader on an educational journey into why the master painter worked the way he did and what inspired him.
“I even work in the wheat fields at midday, in the full heat of the sun without any shade whatever. And there, I revel in it like a cicada,” he wrote in a letter in the summer of 1888.
According to the book, he took great joy in working out in the elements and did so until his death on July 29, 1890. He was 37-years-old and had sold just one painting, a far cry from the fame he was to gain posthumously.
This beautifully presented book allows the reader to explore a subject that has not yet been dealt with in the world of mainstream publishing — the impact of nature on the work of one of the greatest painters of the 19th century.


What We Are Reading Today: Land of Wondrous Cold

Updated 29 February 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Land of Wondrous Cold

Author: Gillen D’Arcy Wood

Antarctica, the ice kingdom hosting the South Pole, looms large in the human imagination.
The secrets of this vast frozen desert have long tempted explorers, but its brutal climate and glacial shores notoriously resist human intrusion. Land of Wondrous Cold tells a gripping story of the pioneering 19th century voyages, when British, French, and American commanders raced to penetrate Antarctica’s glacial rim for unknown lands beyond.
These intrepid Victorian explorers — James Ross, Dumont D’Urville, and Charles Wilkes — laid the foundation for our current understanding of Terra Australis Incognita, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Today, the white continent poses new challenges, as scientists race to uncover Earth’s climate history, which is recorded in the south polar ice and ocean floor, and to monitor the increasing instability of the Antarctic ice cap, which threatens to inundate coastal cities worldwide.
Gillen D’Arcy Wood describes Antarctica’s role in a planetary drama of plate tectonics, climate change, and species evolution.