Studio of the South – Martin Bailey

Published By: Frances Lincoln
Pages: 224
Date Published: 06/07/2021
Date Read: 25/07/2021

For Van Gogh, the south of France was an exciting new land, bursting with life. He walked into the hills inspired by the landscapes, and painted harvest scenes in the heat of summer. He visited a fishing village where he saw the Mediterranean for the first time, energetically capturing it in paint. He painted portraits of friends and locals, and flower still life paintings, culminating in the now iconic Sunflowers. He rented the Yellow House, and gradually did it up, calling it ‘an artist’s house’, inviting Paul Gauguin to join him there. This encounter was to have a profound impact on both of the artists. They painted side by side, their collaboration coming to a dramatic end a few months later. The difficulties Van Gogh faced led to his eventual decision to retreat to the asylum at Saint-Remy.

Based on extensive original research, the book reveals discoveries that throw new light on the legendary artist and give a definitive account of his fifteen months in Provence, including his time at the Yellow House, his collaboration with Gauguin and its tragic and shocking ending.

Thanks to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln for the gifted copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I have always adored art and even think of myself as somewhat of an art aficionado – regardless of the fact I scraped through GCSE level with a C grade about 13 years ago, and my own artistic abilities are yet to be unearthed. Having said that, I feel a level of peace, calm, and comfort when reading about, watching about, talking about, and viewing artwork. If there’s a museum or art gallery about, I’m there! Especially if there happens to be any Van Gogh artwork present. His work is beautiful, not just in the literal sense of his brushstrokes, but in what his work does to us and means to us and makes us feel.

I draw your attention to the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor” (series 5, episode 10 – new who). In this classic episode, Bill Night’s character – a Van Gogh art expert – is asked to sum up, in one hundred words, where he thinks Van Gogh rates in the history of art. His response is as follows:

“To me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of this tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray to ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”

We all know the horrors of Van Gogh’s life and career, but is there more to the man other than his depression and the fact he cut off his own ear? Martin Bailey dived into uncharted territory with this book, providing us with tons of unknown (at least to me) information on Van Gogh. He presents us with background information we already know, but furnishes it with new findings. This makes the book approachable and friendly, but informative.

I love how Van Gogh uses a lot of yellow in his art work. I know this isn’t a comment on Bailey’s book as such, but he has chosen the most gorgeous pictures to portray this. It is amazing how many of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings were done in the last year or so of his life. It’s a shame to think of the brilliance we lost so early.

It is thoroughly researched and expertly written so not to simply regurgitate fact after fact, it is informative but entertaining. It is clear to anyone, even after reading just one page, that Van Gogh is not just Bailey’s interest but also his passion.

One thought on “Studio of the South – Martin Bailey

  1. Great review! I love art – I studied it too but never took it further than A-level, although I now work for a gallery and occasionally paint. I have been meaning to get a Van Gogh book so I will check this one out. That’s a good quote from Doctor Who, I remember that episode.

    Liked by 1 person

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