Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) left one of the world’s greatest artistic legacies. A hidden but crucial part of this legacy are his sketchbooks. They contain a dazzling variety of drawings, evidence of Van Gogh’s dedicated attempts to, as he put it, ‘capture things first-hand’. The sketches include preparatory studies for famous paintings as well as drawings that are miniature works of art in their own right. They are perhaps his most intimate creations.
The earliest sketchbook in the collection dates back to Van Gogh’s time in Nuenen in the Netherlands, from 1884 to 1885. The last one was used in Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise from May 1890 until the artist’s death three months later. The variety of their contents provides a privileged insight into Van Gogh’s working methods. They show us the development of an artist who came to his vocation late in life, dedicated himself to it totally, and never ceased to strive for new modes of expression.
The four sketchbooks remained in the possession of the Van Gogh family until 1962, when the collection was purchased by the newly formed Vincent van Gogh Foundation with funds provided by the Dutch state. The Van Gogh Museum, which opened its doors in 1973, received these works from the foundation on permanent loan. Owing to their fragility they are rarely exhibited, and few have been permitted to examine them. Because Van Gogh used the books for spontaneous sketching, one sketch might be located in the front and the next in the back; sometimes he even held the books upside down so that he could work unhampered, or made one sketch over another. He often tore pages out, sometimes to present drawings to friends, and used others for memoranda such as addresses or quotations from poetry.
All these idiosyncratic features have been faithfully reproduced in a facsimile unlike any other yet created by The Folio Society. The binders have recreated the small number of incomplete pages in the originals, by tearing or cutting the pages by hand. For the bindings, four different materials have been employed: cloth, hessian, coated paper and vegetable parchment.
The Folio Society facsimiles are presented in a replica of the original display box created by the museum’s curators in the 1970s. It is lined with hand-marbled paper, each sheet of which is subtly different. Marbler Jemma Lewis also produced a brilliant match to the original marbling on the endpapers of one of the sketchbooks, including the varnished finish. The title labels on the front of the box, commentary and loose-leaves folders are printed letterpress, as is the hand-numbered limitation certificate.
The commentary is by Marije Vellekoop, Head of Collections, Research and Presentation at the Van Gogh Museum, and Renske Suijver, Researcher at the museum. It explores the ways in which Van Gogh used the sketchbooks, discusses the various recurring themes and provides a description of each sketch, as well as references and further reading. It also contains reproductions of famous masterpieces that appear in sketch form, including The Potato Eaters and Sunflowers.
Also in the keeping of the Van Gogh Museum are 14 loose leaves which at some point became detached from their sketchbooks. The latest research indicates that these leaves originally came from four different books, one from Antwerp and three from Paris, all of which are now lost. The Antwerp sheets date from December 1885 and January 1886. Three of them show the dance halls Van Gogh visited during his first month in the Flemish town. He wrote to his younger brother Theo: ‘One pays 20 or 30 centimes to go in and drinks a glass of beer – for there’s little drinking – and can amuse oneself exceedingly for a whole evening – at least I can – watching the folk’s high spirits.’ Also in Antwerp, Van Gogh had models pose for him, including the old man he described as ‘a type of head in the style of V. Hugo’s’. The sketch of the park and the drawing of the woman with her dog date from Van Gogh’s first year in Paris. The latter is set apart by its rich detail and the use of many different hues of crayon and pen and ink.
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Review by MKenny on 10th Jun 2013
"As soon as "Joe's Blog" mentioned the Van Gogh Sketchbooks were being considered for a limited edition I planned on being amongst the first to order as I felt the edition would sell out almost immedia..." [read more]
Review by AliceF10 on 9th Jun 2013
"Once again The Folio Society have not only exceeded my expectations but again proved that when it comes to their limited editions, hesitation means future regrets. Yes there are editions I regret not ..." [read more]
Review by rbalkris on 17th May 2013
"My second Folio limited edition purchase and what a beauty this is! The attention to detail is amazing and this is a great insight into the creative mind of one of the worlds foremost creative geniuse..." [read more]