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Great Historical Fiction Books about the Tragic Life of Van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionism artist. In his lifetime, Van Gogh sold one painting only. This frustrated him and he felt that he was an absolute failure as an artist. Despite his frustration though, Van Gogh was extremely prolific. In just over ten years, Van Gogh created around 1,100 drawings and studies and 900 paintings.

My three best novels to read about Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh self portrait

Ironically, Van Gogh today is one of the most famous and influential artists in the history of Western modern art. His life story is a tragic one that has inspired many art historians and historical fiction authors to study him & retell his story.

In this article, I will detail for you three great historical fiction books about Vincent Van Gogh. Each novel focuses on a different aspects of Van Gogh’s life, but all of them will take you, page by page, into his artistic & tragic world. They all make his paintings come alive.

My three favorite novels about Van Gogh that bring his famous paintings to life!

1. Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Lust for Life (1934) is a biographical historical fiction novel written by Irving Stone. Since its publication in 1934, this timeless novel continues to be a best-seller even today.

Lust for Life spans approximately ten years, from the time when Van Gogh leaves home to become a missionary, to his death in Auvers-sur-Oise. The book takes you to his difficult months in a coal mine town in southern Belgium to his period in the Parisian art world where he mixes with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. It then transports you to his final years in the small, sunny villages of Arles & Saint Remy in Southern France.

Van Gogh Painting of a Cafe in Arles
Van Gogh Painting of a Cafe in Arles

Irving Stone based his novel on the hundreds of letters (approximately 700) written between Vincent van Gogh and his younger brother, Theo. He creatively invents the dialogue and scenes. However, many of the places, events and characters are based on real events that occurred .

Stone’s novel beautifully captures Vincent Van Gogh’s sensitive soul and his passion for art, even though he never received acceptance as an artist by critics, buyers or peers.

Lust for Life is an absolute gem!

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2. Vincent & Theo by Deborah Heiligman

Heilegman’s beautiful historical fiction book is essentially about the incredible relationship between the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, and his brother Theo. Without Theo’s constant support to Vincent, both emotionally and financially, there would have been no Vincent, the artist.

While Vincent painted and created the art, it was Theo who gave his the constant encouragement to continue to create despite the knock backs. Theo also provided Vincent with a monthly stipend so the he could concentrate all his efforts into painting.

One of the Top Historical Fiction books about Van Gogh  - Vincent & Theo
Vincent and Theo by Heiligman
The best novels to read about Vincent Van Gogh

Heiligman’s novel explores the relationship between the two brothers. Vincent and Theo for the most part did not live in the same cities as they grew older. However, the two brothers wrote to letters to each other often. In their letters, they detailed their lives, hopes and hardships. It is from these letters that Heiligman’s beautiful novel evolved.

Vincent and Theo is a wonderful book that beautifully transports the reader into the lives of the two brothers. It is a must read for all lovers of Vincent Van Gogh & a reminder that one should always follow his/her passions.

Check out this fabulous book.

3. The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman

Alyson Richman’s book is another of my favorite novels to read about the sad life of Vincent Van Gogh. In her book, she captures the last two months of Van Gogh’s life in the small village of Auvers-sur-Oise.

It was during this period that Van Gogh sought help from the doctor and homeopath, Dr. Gachet. This doctor tries to help Van Gogh by giving him homeopathic remedies and also by encouraging him to paint. In fact, Van Gogh was extremely prolific during his two months in Auvers.

One of my best novels to read about Vincent Van Gogh - The Last Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh Painting of Dr. Gachet

The Last Van Gogh novel is narrated through the eyes of Dr. Gachet‘s daughter, Marguerite. She tells of Vincent’s arrival to their home and how he effects the Gachet family. She develops a crush on the painter and Vincent also develops fond feels for her as well. Marguerite is in fact, Vincent’s final muse.

The author went to Auvers-sur-Oise to research this book. She even met two elderly people in their nineties who lived in the village when Marguerite was still alive. From her research she develops a cast of lively & authentic characters who are full of dreams, desires, fears and frustrations.

The Last Van Gogh is a wonderful read.

For more great historical fiction books about the impressionists and post-impressionists, check out the books below: