The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers’ lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Prostitution, Sexually transmitted diseases
Booklist starred (February 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 12))
Grades 9-12. Vincent van Gogh is perhaps one of the best-known artists today, but it’s likely he wouldn’t be nearly as famous had it not been for his brother Theo, an art dealer who supported his troubled brother and championed his paintings until his own untimely death, only months after Vincent’s. While each brother had a pivotal career in his own right, Heiligman (Charles and Emma, 2009) plumbs their correspondence, both to each other and beyond, and zeroes in on their relationship, which was fraught with a brotherly combination of competition, frustration, and, ultimately, adoration. Structured as a sort of gallery of key moments in the brothers’ lives, the book covers their childhood and the influence of their tight-knit family; Vincent’s peripatetic, sometimes scandalous pursuit of a vocation; Theo’s dogged commitment to not only his own career but cultivating Vincent’s; and their ultimate demises, both of which are heartbreaking in their own ways. In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined, particularly during the intense, almost manic flurry of work he produced in his last few years. This illuminating glimpse into the Van Goghs’ turbulent lives and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. Art-loving teens will be captivated.
Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
Heiligman (Charles and Emma, rev. 1/09) again examines the impact of a family member on her main subject, this time unpacking the friendship between artist Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo. After vividly setting the stage with brief sections that introduce Vincent and Theo near the end of their lives, Heiligman takes readers back to their beginnings. We learn of other siblings and of supportive parents; we gain a sense of their childhoods in their father’s parsonage. Structured as a walk through an art museum, the book proceeds through the years, each section a gallery: “Gallery Two: Dangers (1873–1875)”; “Gallery Three: Missteps, Stumbles (1875–1879).” We see Vincent moving restlessly from one job to another, at times acting and dressing oddly, walking huge distances when short on funds, coping with unrequited love, and slowly embracing the life of an artist. We see Theo, the art dealer, struggling with his own trials, consistently supporting Vincent throughout his life. Heiligman mostly employs a present-tense, purposely staccato narration that effectively heightens the brothers’ emotional intensity, their sufferings and pleasures (physical, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual), and, most of all, Vincent’s wild and original art. The layout, which incorporates sketches, subheads, and a generous use of white space, is a calming counterpoint to the turbulent narrative. Documenting the author’s research involving visits to sites, along with academic and primary sources, the extensive back matter includes a list of significant people, a timeline, a bibliography, thorough citations, and an author’s note. The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.
About the Author
Deborah Heiligman has been writing for children since she worked at Scholastic News soon after college. Since then she has written more than thirty books for children and teens. Her books include picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, and young adult nonfiction and fiction. Some titles: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, a National Book Award finalist; The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos, a Cook Prize Winner and Orbis Pictus honor; Intentions, a Sydney Taylor Award winner, and a picture book series about Tinka the dog. Her latest book is Vincent and Theo: The van Gogh Brothers.
Her website is www.deborahheiligman.com.
Around the Web
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Vincent and Theo Publisher Page