Picks and Pans Review: Van Gogh: 25 Masterworks

updated 07/02/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/02/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Text by A.M. Hammacher

There are some perplexing things about this slim, oversize paperbound volume. For one thing, Hammacher, a Dutch art historian, offers no explanation why he chose these particular 25 examples of Van Gogh's work. For another, frequent references are made to letters—"in letters 501, B8, W5, and 519, he spoke of his intention in this painting"—without explaining what the code numbers refer to. (The numbers are standard usage among Van Gogh experts in referring to letters the prolific artist wrote.) But the paintings are so powerful and reproduced so vividly—all in color—that the rest of the book hardly matters, especially at this price. The 25 include less often seen samples of the artist's self-portrait, sunflower and starry-night series, as well as such stunning, relatively unfamiliar works as the blue-gray-beige The Iron Bridge at Trinquetaille from 1888 and Peasant Girl Against a Background of Wheat from 1890. Of the latter work, finished the month before Van Gogh's suicide, Hammacher says, "The contradictions and confusions of that period were often overwhelming but Vincent fought valiantly until the tragic end (and with some success) to maintain contact with the reality of objects." (Abrams, $14.95)

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