Authors:Sjraar van Heugten, with contributions by Joan Greer & Ted Gott

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691179711

This wonderfully illustrated work, which covers the life and artistic output of Vincent van Gogh, with a particular emphasis on Van Gogh’s appreciation of the significance of nature as embodying the spiritual essence of the divine, was published in association with the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, and Art Exhibitions Australia, on the occasion of the first major Van Gogh exhibition to be held for decades in Australia, at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. With the exhibition itself necessarily being somewhat limited in scope, consisting of fifty of the great artist’s works, Van Gogh and the Seasons served as an extremely important complement and supplement to the visual richness on display—as Ted Gott so rightfully points out, whereas the Impressionists taught the world how to see nature, Van Gogh taught the world how to feel nature.

Sjraar van Heugten, joint author of several books on Van Gogh, including Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and Van Gogh and Nature, starts off this collection of essays on Van Gogh and his seasons-related work with the central piece on images of nature and humanity. In addition, he presents a compilation of excerpts from Van Gogh’s correspondence with a range of associates, but especially with his brother, Theo, who was his financial backer and motivator throughout his relatively short life (he died aged only 37). Next comes Joan E. Greer’s (Professor of History of Art, Design and Visual Culture in the Department of Art and Design, as well as the Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alberta) soul-searching rendition of ‘‘To Everything There is a Season’: The Rhythms of the Year in Vincent van Gogh’s Socio-Religious Worldview’. Ted Gott’s (Senior Curator, International Art, NGV) discussion of the conflicts of interest between Van Gogh and the French Symbolists, his biographical overview of the artist’s life, and his insights into the painter’s collection of prints contextualize the role played by Van Gogh in terms of the broader society of his time. Contributing to the analysis of the paintings shown (and reproduced in full color in the body of the text) are Sophie Matthiesson (of the University of Melbourne’s Masterclass fame) and Laurie Benson, International Art curator at the NGV.

The multiple illustrations in Van Gogh and the Seasons, of which many are full-page and full-color, make this quarto book an absolute treat. One is immersed in Van Gogh’s work from the very start, as even prior to the title page come four paintings, with one being a portrait of the great artist himself. The role of the peasant in Van Gogh’s work, which was so impacted upon by the stark reality of the changing seasons, is also of extreme importance, as is shown by the well-illustrated focus on the influence of the Realist painter Millet’s art on the aforesaid doyen. Van Gogh’s pious Protestant upbringing, as the son of a Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, is shown as having elicited sympathy in the now-renowned artist for the symbolism inherent in nature, with the parables of reaping and sowing holding close accord with his own personal vision and understanding of the evolving seasons.

In short, Van Gogh and the Seasons is an extremely worthy text that is quite capable of standing its own long past the date of closure of the aforesaid NGV exhibition itself. For those who wish to read a fluent and accessible account of the many different aspects of Van Gogh’s life and work, written from a range of perspectives, this magnificent volume should satisfy the palate of even the most discerning connoisseur (let alone the artistic neophyte).