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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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A letter by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh, Etten, mid-September 1881 (Catalogue entry 172)

The other week the new international scholarly edition of Vincent van Gogh's letters was published. It is the result of 15 years of research by scholars at the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute in The Netherlands.  It is meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated. I own the paperback edition of his collected letters, but this edition reproduces the letters in full as well as every painting or drawing Van Gogh refers to.

It is a stunning book. Jackie Wullschlager, art critic for the Financial Times, called it the most important art publication of 2009 if not the decade. It is.

The entire project, including the complete, unabridged letters as facsimile copies, English translations, as well as reproductions of the paintings to which Van Gogh refers, is also available on-line. This really is a truly exemplary project.

The letters give a profound insight, not only into the work of Van Gogh, but also into the nature of art and creativity. As in his paintings it is all about intensity. Nothing is unworthy of Van Gogh's focused attention. Everything can become the subject of a painting. The entire world is a blazing field of intensity. If you recall that scene from American Beauty in which Ricky shows Jane his camcorder footage of a plastic bag blowing in the wind, that's Van Gogh.

There is also a certain amount of pointless babble in his letters and had Van Gogh been alive today he would no doubt have been a prolific blogger and he would have embraced twitter. But just browse the on-line database or the book, chances are you will hit upon an interesting remark or a moving passage.