t the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, 40 precious masterpieces are on show together for the first time. But these aren’t paintings, these are letters, by one of the world’s greatest artists. And if you can’t get along to Amsterdam, there’s a new book of his letters you can read at home.
Why read the correspondence of a man who’s famous for what he painted, rather than what he wrote? Because Vincent van Gogh’s letters are artworks in their own right. His pictures would still enthrall us, even if we knew nothing about the man who made them, but it’s his letters that reveal the human being, the face behind the mask. “He really knew how to speak his mind, to shape his thoughts,” says Nienke Bakker, the curator of this show and co-editor of the book. “Even before becoming an artist, he had this talent for evoking a scene or a story.”
Over 800 of Van Gogh’s letters survive, and most of them are here in the Van Gogh Museum. The bulk of this collection comprises the letters he wrote to his younger brother Theo, who bankrolled his career. It’s these letters which form the backbone of this exhibition, and the book. “He has a gripping way of writing,” says Bakker. “It’s about his everyday life, but he writes in such a way that it becomes relevant and recognisable for all of us.”