Favorite type of stories
Vincent van Gogh loved literature. He enjoyed a direct style of writing, ranging from simple action stories and rebellious characters to books about everyday life and humanity.
Even as a child, Vincent devoured stacks of books. In general, the books he read reflected what was going on in his life.
Of all the books he read, there are four that played an important role in his life. Those are books by Charles Dickens, Jules Michelet, Émile Zola and Alphonse Daudet.
Charity with Dickens
This house is the vicarage in the village of Nuenen where Vincent van Gogh's parents lived. Vincent's father was a Protestant minister. His parents encouraged Vincent to read for his own self-development. As a child, Vincent read moralistic books, often favoured amoung members of the Protestant Christian community: the kind that stressed the importance of charity and humanity. These are also key values in the work of Dickens. Vincent read and reread works of Dickens throughout his life.
Love with Michelet
In 'L'amour' by Jules Michelet (1858), Vincent van Gogh found wisdom he could apply to his own love life. The book deals with the love between a man and a woman and can be read as a moral lesson. Vincent used it to justify his choices and how he lived his life. When he fell in love with his cousin Kee Vos. And as he lived together with Sien Hoornink, a prostitute.
A view on reality with Zola
As Emile Zola ‘painted’ with his pen, Vincent ‘wrote’ with his brush. Zola’s stories like 'L'Oeuvre' (1886) were rooted in reality. He described life as rough and direct as it was lived in Parisian slums and miners’ villages. Like Zola, Vincent wanted to give an honest depiction of what he saw around him: farm labourers, a weathered old man, dejected or working women, a soup kitchen, a tree, dunes and fields.
Humour with Daudet
When Vincent went to live in Arles in the south of France (in 1888), he had a need for reading humour and satire. He read 'Tartarin de Tarascon' by Alphonse Daudet (1887). The book deals with an entertaining caricature of the Southern Frenchman. In this farce, Vincent could identify with life in southern France. Its humour impressed him. Vincent believed that little happened in his own era that was truly uplifting and that art was the only thing that could give one any consolation.
Other favorite authors
Vincent van Gogh enjoyed various other authors and books, from the Bible to John Keats. From George Eliot to the Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Hans Christian Andersen, and many others.
Reading books is like
‘Reading books is like looking at paintings: without doubting, without hesitating, with self-assurance, one must find beautiful that which is beautiful.’ – Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, 5 August 1881
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam