Writer, art historian, editor, and critic. Bloomberg News, chief art critic.
(Editor, with Karen Wright) The Grove Book of Art Writing, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2000.
(Author of introductory essay) BP Portrait Award, 1990-2001, National Portrait Gallery (London, England), 2001.
The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.
Author, art historian, and critic Martin Gayford examines one of the late nineteenth century's more unlikely artistic collaborations in The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles. In late 1888, noted painter Vincent Van Gogh leased a house in the small southern French town of Arles. "Faced with yellow stucco, the building seemed to symbolize his vision of a life lived in full sunlight," commented Clive Wilmer in the New Statesman. Van Gogh was at the height of his artistic powers and was creating some of the canvases that would secure his place in art history. However, Van Gogh was also a very lonely man. In his quest for artistic community, he convinced another artistic great, Paul Gaugin, to join him in Arles. The two painters shared house and studio for nine difficult, turbulent weeks, during which they worked, drank, talked, read, visited prostitutes and museums, and inspired each other.
Gayford describes the difficulties of living with Van Gogh. The artist was a constant talker, unhygienic, surly, and prone to drunkenness, when he would also become violent. Gaugin was a much more reserved personality. The studio they shared was cramped and tiny, and Gaugin had to walk through Van Gogh's bedroom to get to his own. Their time together was characterized by Van Gogh's worsening mental condition, probably as the result of bipolar disorder, and culminated in his infamous ear-slicing, after which Gaugin left for Paris. The two artists would never see each again, yet during their short time together, they significantly influenced each other's work. Gayford "sees this period as a turning point in the work of each artist and in the history of art, and he chronicles every day, sometimes every hour, of their life together," noted a reviewer in the Economist. "Gayford manages to get right inside these complex minds, analyzing their thoughts, fears, ambitions, complaints and fantasies with admirable clarity," commented Richard Cork in the Guardian. Gayford offers "fascinating interpretations of the work" that each artist created during the "short, stormy conjunction" of their personal and professional lives, commented Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly.
"The achievement of Gayford's book is to indicate the value of those nine weeks—to both artists and, therefore, to the thrust of modern painting," commented Wilmer. Reviewer Jenny Gasset, writing in the School Library Journal, called it an "accessible and even affectionate work of art history," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor named it "lucid and learned and propelled by a piercing dramatic irony." A Publishers Weekly critic observed that it is "impossible to entirely understand" the motivations of Van Gogh and Gaugin during their period of collaboration in France, but "these pages deliver as close and vivid an image as may be possible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 2006, Kevin Nance, review of The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles, p. 24.
Bookseller, April 14, 2006, "Lend Him an Ear: Gayford Puts Flesh on Van Gogh's Bones," review of The Yellow House, p. 39.
Economist, April 29, 2006, "Sunny Side Down: Van Gogh and Gaugin," review of The Yellow House, p. 89.
Entertainment Weekly, November 17, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of The Yellow House, p. 135.
Guardian (London, England), April 8, 2006, Richard Cork, "Brushes with Genius," review of The Yellow House.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2006, review of The Yellow House, p. 820.
New Statesman, May 29, 2006, Clive Wilmer, "Companion Piece," review of The Yellow House, p. 54.
Publishers Weekly, September 18, 2006, review of The Yellow House, p. 45.
School Library Journal, November, 2006, Jenny Gasset, review of The Yellow House, p. 173.