Lust for Life by Irving Stone

This is Irving Stone’s fictionalized biography of Vincent van Gogh. The historical narrative is based on facts, but he invents conversations based on Van Gogh’s three volumes of letters that he left behind.  

What a fascinating and ultimately tragic story. Vincent van Gogh was born in the 1800s in Holland, the son of a pastor. His uncles were the most famous art dealers in Holland. For a time Van Gogh went to seminary, but that did not really work for him. He became an evangelist in a very poor mining town fraught with dangers. The suffering of the people there ultimately led him to turn away from God completely and to take up painting. When he took up painting, he did so voraciously. He practically painted non-stop and painted furiously. He would often finish one painting a day. For the first several years he was painting at several places in Holland before moving to Paris to be with his younger brother Theo. During Van Gogh’s ten years of so of furious painting, he was supported completely by his brother Theo. He would only sell one painting during his lifetime, and at times went without food.


Theo was the main champion of a group of young painters known as Impressionists. They included painters such as Gauguin, Cézanne, Pissarro, Seurat and others. He became good friends with these fellow Impressionists and they influenced him heavily from using the dark colors common to Dutch painters and toward using the bright sunny colors of the Impressionists. Van Gogh also spent time in the sunny regions of Arles in southern France.


Van Gogh was eccentric. He was socially awkward. He never married, though he lived with a prostitute for a while. He became increasingly troubled mentally and began having some sort of epileptic seizures. When he was only 37 years old he chose to end his life rather than to continue to be a burden to his brother.


Stone gave very little about Van Gogh’s spiritual thoughts, particularly after he had rejected God. At the end of his life, when he committed suicide, did he think about God, did he wonder? Did he even come back to Christ and no one knew? We don’t know. At least we don’t know from Irving Stone’s biography.


It is ironic that Van Gogh’s paintings became so famous and so valuable in light of his obscurity and poverty. Overall, a sad and indeed tragic life.