Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings (Taschen)

I bought a new book about Van Gogh a week ago and have been mesmerised ever since. Van Gogh - The Complete Paintings by Ingo F Walther and Rainer Metzger (published by Taschen) is a complete survey of all the paintings.
This comprehensive study of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) represents a rarity in art history: a detailed monograph on his life and art combined with a complete catalogue of his 871 paintings. This volume also reproduces most of van Gogh's paintings in color for the first time. (Amazon Summary)
Quite apart from the comprehensive nature of its scope, the book itself has merit by being a complete and utter bargain. It was published by Taschen in August last year as part of Taschen's 25th anniversary editions featuring various artists. It has 736 pages, is a small paperback and costs £7.99 (or less if you buy it on the Internet). Taschen's laminated flexi cover is much more robust than that found on an ordinary paperback. This book shows every sign of being bound to a very high standard.

The book scores high marks from me by providing complete coverage of all the paintings (and some of the drawings). I guess the tendency of very many reviews of Van Gogh's work has always been to focus on the more famous works. So much so that I have to confess I was completely bored by most of them - hence why I stuck to the drawings for this month long project. However this book has really opened my eyes to what Van Gogh actually achieved. I was simply amazed by some of the paintings it contains which I had never seen before. If I didn't think a lot more of Van Gogh after starting this project and studying his drawings I certainly did after I started to peruse this book.

It's organised in chronological order and tackles key themes as his life progresses. The huge bonus of a survey of paintings is that you can see the themes much more clearly. The progression of style over time also becomes much clearer. Drawings are published next to the associated painting. Having a detailed monograph which repeatedly draws upon Van Gogh's letters (referencing them in detail) is another huge asset. At the end of the book there is also a very detailed chronology - with photographs - of Van Gogh's life followed by an exceptionally detailed bibliography. I'd go so far as saying that anybody who has studied Van Gogh in detail and has delighted in his work will find that they are bound to learn something new from this survey.

There is also a jumbo version of this book (priced at £25). According to some of the reviews of the jumbo version on Amazon, some of the colours of some of the reproductions are a bit off in that version. I have to say I have no quibbles on that score given the challenges of colour processing at every stage from photography to production. I'm not paying 'top dollar' and I've seen some very iffy colour production in very expensive books before now. I'd far rather have a book which is completely unpretentious and offers perfectly reasonable reproduction of the complete set of paintings for a really great price. In fact I'd go so far as saying the reproduction is better than much I've seen in far more expensive books. You can see inside the book at the quality of the reproduction by clicking on the link to the Taschen site at the top of this post.

My only complaint is that I'm finding it impossible to read in sequence as I keep jumping around and reading different sections!

Other Taschen anniversary editions feature artists and art movements including Dali, Hopper, Impressionism, Japanese Graphics, Kilmt, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Piranesi and Symbolism.

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  1. Hi Katherine. Thanks for the book review. I've been looking for similar books, and reviews like this make my decisions so much easier. It's on my wish list, along with a few more on other artists.

    My favorite Van Gogh's aren't his most famous either, and I'm amazed at how much of it I still haven't seen- yet.

  2. I'll be adding this one to my list as well, Katherine. I've been enjoying all your 'Van Gogh Project' posts. He never ceases to amaze me. Like you and Lisa I'm rather bored by his over used popular images....but I can't wait to view this edition. It gives me a thrill when I think of so many of his paintings yet to be viewed.

  3. Hey, I'm reading that one right now!
    No surprise there. I forget which other book I have from Taschen, but their whole mantra of inexpensive art books with quality is wonderful.

  4. Thanks for the great review. I also wanted to mention how nicely designed your format is with the boxes around the call out text and under the book. Nicely done all around and the book is now in my Amazon shopping cart!


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