As It Is and as It Was
by Linda Seidel
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Pub Date 10 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 01 Mar 2023
Once admired as “a little Rome” on the banks of the Rhône, the town of Arles in the south of France had been a place of significance long before the painter Vincent van Gogh arrived in February of 1888. Aware of Arles’s history as a haven for poets, van Gogh spent an intense fifteen months there, scouring the city’s streets and surroundings in search of subjects to paint when he wasn’t thinking about other places or lamenting his woeful circumstances.
In Vincent’s Arles, Linda Seidel serves as a guide to the mysterious and culturally rich town of Arles, taking us to the places immortalized by van Gogh and cherished by innumerable visitors and pilgrims. Drawing on her extensive expertise on the region and the medieval world, Seidel presents Arles then and now as seen by a walker, visiting sites old and new. Roman, Romanesque, and contemporary structures come alive with the help of the letters the artist wrote while in Arles. The result is the perfect blend of history, art, and travel, a chance to visit a lost past and its lingering, often beautiful, traces in the present.
“Vincent’s Arles takes us step by step on a fascinating journey around Arles as it was in Vincent’s time and how it is today. Offering many surprises and fresh reflections, Seidel’s authoritative and intimate voice delves meticulously into history, myth, and legend. We explore the city’s Roman heritage, tombs, and churches that enchanted van Gogh, sacred places that have been a crossroads of pilgrimages for centuries. Vincent, a voracious reader, would have loved these pages.” -- Mariella Guzzoni, author of Vincent’s Books
“It is a circumstance that would become crucial to the history of modern art that Vincent van Gogh often found himself living in places of profound natural beauty, in places with impressive architectural or even archaeological histories, or both, and that so many of his greatest paintings were set in these gorgeous places. Now Seidel takes us on an intimate journey, beautifully written, through one such place, helping us to see Arles as van Gogh himself saw it, and therefore revealing how he reimagined the places he lived for artistic impact.” -- Steven Naifeh, Pulitzer Prize–winning coauthor of Van Gogh: The Life
"Like a medieval pilgrimage to a shrine celebrating the dead, this book is a journey through time more than space. Van Gogh's encounter with the portal of the church of Saint Trophime in Arles generates a riveting reflection on the matter of experience. What produces an event? What lies behind a painting? What comes into view? Seidel takes us from what van Gogh saw to the mist of images stored in his mind to stories of which he was unaware but that shaped every street on which he laid his eyes. The result is a gentle, most beautiful contemplation of the magical entanglements of history." -- Emanuele Lugli, author of Knots, or the Violence of Desire in Renaissance Florence
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 8 members
"Vincent's Arles" by Linda SIedel is a novel that explores the town of Arles, as seen through the eyes of Vincent Van Gogh. I enjoyed this book, having visited Arles years ago. It brought back memories of this beautiful place at a time when life was simpler than it is now.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This is a lovely book looking into Vincent's time in Arles. A short book comparing Arles as it was in Vincent's time to Arles as it is now and what inspired Vincent the most. This book is good for travel lovers, art lovers, and history buffs alike.
<i>Thank You to the University of Chicago Press and NetGalley for this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review!</i>
As a fan of Vincent since I learned who he was in my youth, this book was a joy to read! I learned that Van Gogh and I appreciate some of the same artists/authors, Poe and Méryon specifically. It was fascinating that people will visit sites he went to as if traveling through time, seeing what he saw which inspired him enough to create. I feel that pictures and momentums of areas we visit make us feel closer to the people who once made the site(s) memorable, connecting us in modern times to people and places of the past. It’s bittersweet knowing that locations Vincent cherished were destroyed because of the war, though through him making them famous, they are still frequented to this day. On top of learning more about the famous painter, I enjoyed learning about the history of Arles itself, my favorite part being the debate over whether the statue with thinning hair was Julius Caesar or not.
A wonderful book about art history with beautiful pictures that I can’t wait to see in color once published.
Vincent's Arles by Linda Seidel is an interesting look at Arles and, through both the past and the present, a reflection on Vincent van Gogh.
Though there are many books about van Gogh, and several specifically about his time in Arles, there is still room for ones that offer insightful reflection, and this is one of those. Seidel brings her expertise in medieval and Renaissance art to this reflection on both van Gogh and Arles itself. Combined with a personal touch this volume appeals on several levels.
I like to accompany my reading of most books, but especially books that are about any visual art or expression, with online resources. From finding additional images to learning other people's thoughts about the same material in the book such a habit is usually very fruitful. In this case, I was also able to try to remember my own visits to locations that he had visited or lived. I will make a couple of suggestions, just keep in mind these are not in place of this book but as additions or complements.
There is an online source that is a lot of fun, van Gogh route (vangoghroute.com), which has a bunch of information about places he spent time. Plus all of the usual van Gogh sites online. I would also recommend any of Martin Bailey's books, several of which are more like coffee table books but with excellent writing and research. Studio of the South is one that covers his time in Arles, so is most applicable here.
I think what makes multiple books covering similar ground possible is just how many different ways van Gogh speaks to people. These books, while covering the "facts" of his time here, they also highlight what speaks the most to that author. I have learned so many ways to appreciate the artist and the man from reading how these writers, in this case Seidel, presents him. He was multidimensional and this volume presents some of them.
Highly recommended for the van Gogh lover, the general art lover, and anyone who enjoys reading at the intersection of history, art, and biography.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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