The Van Gogh Sisters

Thames & Hudson. Apr. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9780500023600. $39.95. BIOG
Art historian Verlinden (How I Love London: Walking Through Vincent van Gogh’s London) aims to bring Van Gogh’s three younger sisters “out of their brother’s shadow” in this satisfying group biography, for which he read 460-plus pieces of correspondence written or received by Anna, Elisabeth (Lies), and Willemien (Wil) van Gogh, including previously unpublished letters. He draws on the letters and other primary sources to illuminate Anna, Lies, and Wil’s upper-middle-class lives as the daughters of Rev. Theodorus van Gogh; their personal relationships; and their barriers to pursuing education and paid work (Wil was involved in Dutch first-wave feminism, including an 1898 exhibition to promote Dutch women artists). Vincent stays in the background of the monograph, but its high-quality reproductions of his art help illustrate the Van Goghs’ world, and the events of his life are keenly conveyed in family letters (especially the grief following his suicide). Verlinden is passionate about his subjects, and the result is an intimate portrait of a family that swirls around Vincent and his posthumous legacy like so many brushstrokes. This English translation of the monograph (first published in Dutch in 2016) flows smoothly.
VERDICT Buy where fine art, feminism, group biographies of women, or biographies like Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s Van Gogh: The Life are popular.
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