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When I was young and besotted with him, to be Vincent Van Goghgifted, misunderstood, destitute and dead at 37—was, I believed, an appropriately romantic state of being for anyone who aspired to be an artist.  Vincent, of course, wasn’t very happy with his own state of being—which may explain why he found 37 years to be quite enough—but what he was astonishingly good at, other than making hypnotically beautiful paintings, was writing. No visual artist before or since has left a body of written evidence more vast and expressive than Van Gogh’s:  hundreds upon hundreds of letters, mostly to his beloved younger brother, Theo, written over nearly two decades—and currently on view at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.  Lucid, brutally frank, unimaginably alive, and immensely sorrowful, they comprise an essential self-portrait of one man’s heart and mind—every bit as unforgettable as the portraits he rendered immortal with paint.


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