Vincent's Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh

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Pub Date 26 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 29 Feb 2024
Next Chapter | Magnum Opus

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Bestselling author (Gilded Summers) Donna Russo’s Vincent’s Women is the untold story of Vincent's loves: how they shaped his life, his art, and his death. It writes against the ‘myths,’ exploring the possibility that none of them are true. It is the only novel to bring into question his sexuality, how he lost his ear, who he lost it for, and how he might have died, all through the eyes of a woman. We learn of Her; we learn all of it through Her.

The story is guided by Johanna van Gogh Bonger, Vincent's sister-in-law, as she decides to reveal the truth about Vincent to her son. She then takes the reader on a journey through Vincent's life, each section bringing a pivotal moment of Vincent's life alive while revealing the part ‘She’ played in bringing it about. Between each woman, our guide, Johanna, gives us the transitional periods, right up to his death, which is now in question. Hundreds of the nearly thousand letters between Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo, now considered one of the greatest documents of the human experience, were used to help construct this novel, its narrative, and dialogue, especially the dialogue of Vincent himself.

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most well-known artists of all time. The world knows of his madness, traumas, and suicide. But what if all that we know isn’t true? What if this knowledge is based on rumors and nothing more? What if his true story is vastly different when based on factual material and forensic information? What if the truth of Vincent’s life—his madness and his genius—is defined by his never-ending search for love?

Bestselling author (Gilded Summers) Donna Russo’s Vincent’s Women is the untold story of Vincent's loves: how they shaped his life, his art, and his death. It writes against the ‘myths,’ exploring...

A Note From the Publisher

“Readers will love some of these women; others they’ll love to hate,” the author confirms. “In either case, the incredible stories of these women, untold until now, the incredible influence they had on Vincent, and their own remarkable lives, is a story I felt I had to tell, one that needed to be told.”

“Readers will love some of these women; others they’ll love to hate,” the author confirms. “In either case, the incredible stories of these women, untold until now, the incredible influence they had...

Advance Praise

"Vincent's Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh represents historical fiction at its best by melding the myths and facts of the artist's life with a dramatic biographical inspection that explores underlying truths about the pivotal moments of Vincent's life.

Narrated by Johanna van Gogh Bonger (Vincent's sister-in-law), it translates to fiction the hundreds (out of nearly thousands) of letters between Vincent and his brother Theo, adding the value of Johanna van Gogh-Bonger’s diaries and correspondence with Theo van Gogh, along with the journals and memoir of Paul Gauguin. This triangle of factual writings results in a dialogue of discoveries and insights which will prove especially attractive to art collections that include fictional representations of artists alongside nonfiction surveys.

General-interest readers who have some basic familiarity with von Gogh's mystique and legends will also find Vincent's Women compelling. The story addresses many questions about his life, from his missing ear to his madness and suicide.

The opening, however, comes in 1924 from a narrator who confesses, on her deathbed, facts about her life that affected its course, art, and insights. Perhaps this is an unfair time to reveal such truths to her son—but it also is likely the last and perfect time, creating a completely compelling confessional tone that draws readers into the questions and answers not just about von Gogh's life, but the motivations of those around him.

Her evocative voice drives a series of events that conclude in revelations and surprises driven by an article published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology in Dec. 2020 that postulated the logic in this story and about Vincent's death.

Donna Russo excels in vivid descriptions of these pivotal points in Vincent's life. These drive the fact-based story in a manner that explains, explores, and provides powerful insights into the artist's self-destructive impulses and actions and how they were perceived and interpreted by those around him.

The result is a multifaceted exploration of von Gogh's artistry, insanity, and relationships that examines personal perspectives in a unique manner designed to attract both arts readers and those who hold only a cursory knowledge of the times and von Gogh's life and creations.

Backed by solid research and driven by the devices of fictional drama and dialogue, Vincent's Women is especially highly recommended for art libraries that may not usually contain fictional works, but which will find Russo's scholarship and the marriage between it and embellished drama to be astute, thought-provoking, and revealing.”

 --Midwest Book Review (D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer)

"A radiant and compelling novel of the painter Vincent van Gogh told by the women who knew him through his brief, often troubled, and sometimes joyful life. Each woman, from a cousin, a prostitute, an elderly nun, his devoted sister-in-law, and even his difficult mother, loved him in different ways. I kept hoping in turn that each would be the one to save him from his always returning darkness. Donna Russo Morin writes as lyrically and perceptively as a van Gogh painting, making me fall in love with his work all over again, this painter who 'had the beauty of the world in him.' One of the most wonderful books about an artist I have ever read.

--Stephanie Cowell

Author of Claude and Camille: a novel of Monet, and Marrying Mozart. Recipient American Book Award.

Vincent's Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh by Donna Russo is a historical fiction novel narrated by Johanna Bonger van Gogh, sister-in-law of Vincent van Gogh, to her son, Willem. Johanna describes London from 1873 to 1874, when Vincent admired housemate Eugenie Loyer, sparking his passion for art. Johanna reflects on Vincent's life, his unrequited love, different professions, and inner struggles. In various episodes, Johanna describes Vincent's relationships with Kee Stricker Vos, Sien, and Margot Begemann as emotional drivers on his artistic journey. She explores his time in Paris, his partnership with Gauguin, and the pivotal ear-severing incident. Sister Epiphany at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum is a crucial support, after which his connection with Marguerite Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise provides respite from his mental anguish until his tragic suicide.

Living in Europe, I have seen plenty of Vincent van Gogh's work, although I admit that aside from the ear severing and suicide, there was nothing more I knew of his actual life. As a feminist, I love books that dig deeper into eras when men wrote their own history and largely left women out of it. Donna Russo does an exceptional job in sussing out the women who had a significant impact on the artist's famous work in Vincent's Women. I think it is important to clarify that love is not just romantic, and romantic love is not always the most transformative. In this regard, the woman who stood out to me in Russo's exhaustively researched and wonderfully written book is Sister Epiphany. If I had to pick one woman from the line-up to spend time with, she would be the one. It's hard not to feel sorry for the women Vincent, for lack of a better term, abandoned. That said, Russo breathes life back into their roles in van Gogh's evolution. The writing and dialogue are all so well done, and the use of a fictional narrative makes it all feel authentic. Very highly recommended.

--Readers' Favorites, 5-star review

With the dazzling color of a van Gogh canvas, Vincent’s Women brings the artist to vivid life. Russo cleverly reveals the man through the eyes of the women who shaped him and his work, while challenging commonly held notions about his legend. I was left with an even greater appreciation of his art and with a deep respect for Russo’s research and writing. A powerful and satisfying read.

--Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and The Woman with the Cure

"Vincent's Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh represents historical fiction at its best by melding the myths and facts of the artist's life with a dramatic biographical...

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Featured Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this book.
A fictional account of the women in the life of Vincent Van Gogh that is based in fact.
A very readable account of the loves of this wonderful artist. Told from a fictional account by his sister in law given to his nephew. The language brings the story vividly to life, making you feel that you are there witnessing the events.
The book is well researched and written, bringing the story to life. I look forward to reading more from this author.

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There isso much to love about this book, and so much to say. I’m copying just a couple of paras from my review of it on GoodReads, and will post a link below to the actual review.

“Vincent’s Women offers us a fresh perspective on the life and loves of Vincent. Told through his sister-in-law’s voice, interwoven with Vincent’s and Theo’s actual letters to each other, the narrative offers the many alternative stories behind Vincent’s tortured life sympathetically, and sometimes very lyrically. Books like these are what I read for - to enter the lives of another, to live in his shoes, to see the world through his eyes. As the author’s notes indicates, the fact that much of the narrative is based on Vincent’s actual letters offers us a novel that is almost biography.

This is historical fiction at its best, although I hesitate to use the word ‘fiction’ for this novel given it’s foundations in actual correspondence, and forensic and police records. The narrative is compelling, the characters so real, and interspersed with the art they influenced, that a reader can identify the art by who inspired it by the end of the narrative. It’s such a tour de force of Vincent and his art that even a reader unfamiliar with his art would take leave of its pages feeling like s/he now ‘knew’ Vincent very well.

I read the ebook version but this is a book I hope to get in hard copy so that I can keep going back to it, whenever, wherever. Ths is easily the best book I’ve read this year!”

I can’t wait to get my hands on a hard copy of this book when it’s released - it’s definitely a keeper!!

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I really didn’t know much about Vincent Van Gogh so I always look forward to learning more. This was perfectly written and had everything that I wanted from this type of book. Donna Russo does a great job in researching this book and keeping me invested.

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Donna Russo has done a masterful job of peeling back the curtain on a mysterious artist's life and death in this book. Approaching the life and loves of Van Gogh from the perspective of the women in his life is a fresh look at the incredible life of the master artist. This approach allows the writing to be engaging as a narrative rather than just the tedious details of her obviously deep research into the man and the myth. Even if you are not a fan of the artist, you will find the book engaging. If you are a fan of Vincent, this is a must read.

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I loved this. I have long enjoyed and been mesmerized not only by Van Gogh’s work, but also his life. This book explores his life and relationships in such an interesting way and from such an interesting perspective. A must read for any art enthusiast.

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During various stages of Vincent Van Gogh's life, there were according to author, Donna Russo, four to five women around him helping and guiding him or were they real at all? Were these women muses, figments of his imagination or indeed a reality? Donna Russo's research is formidable and quite incredible; getting to the heart of Vincent's life is his sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh Bonger. As Johanna speaks to her son about what happened to Vincent during his life; who he would go to for solace and who would let him down, it was always his sister-in-law who never let him down.

If readers want to meet the women in Van Gogh's life and judge for themselves who just helped him and who hurt him, if you would like to get to know Vincent better, I can only highly recommend Vicent's Women by Donna Russo.

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Poor live with such anguish and torment interspersed with such high creativity....a see-saw life of deep lows and productive highs. All in an age where mental health was neither understood nor medicated in a successful way.
"Vincent's Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh" by Donna Russo tells Vincent's life through the loves of his life. When all family, but his brother Theo, turned away from Vincent and his crazy ways, he came across various people who supported him for periods....romantically, emotionally and care wise.
Each person's story reads as a powerful one in its own right, but combined, the carried batten of Vincent, opened my eyes to possible descrencies in the currently thought history of his life. Was he self destructive in a physical sense.....or not?
The story is guided by Johanna van Gogh Bonger, Vincent's sister-in-law, as she decides to reveal the truth about Vincent to her son. Jo was the keeper of Vincent's immense collection of paintings, sketches and letters.
Such an emotional story of Vincent's madness as lived by the loves throughout his life. Strongly evidenced by Donna's research of letters, forensics and documents, I am left wondering if only.......
I will look at each of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings with new eyes.
Thanks to NetGalley, Donna Russo and Next Chapter Magnum Opus for my copy.

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Firstly, thank you to NetGalley, Next Chapter, and Magnum Opus for gifting me this book in exchange for review.

Donna Russo’s book, as indicated by its title is a historical narrative of Vincent Van Gogh’s life through extensive study of the letters, journals, news and magazine articles of the artist and his family, friends, and peers. Russo’s talent in her writing is not only marked by her extensive research, but her ability to transform letters into a fine illustration of life, told primarily through the relationships he maintained with women in his life. Beginning with the fractured and dysfunctional relationship with his mother, to his similar love life in his adulthood. The overarching narrative technique of this book employs Jo, his sister-in-law’s collection of letters, journals, and artworks, relaying her knowledge of Vincent’s life to her son, Van Gogh’s nephew Willem. The strong mother-son relationship that the narrative depends upon is cast against the loneliness of Vincent’s life emphasising its tragedy to the reader.

Russo’s narrative of Vincent’s life is historical fiction at its finest, using its primary sources and cross-examining them, using our narrator (Jo) as a way to provide evidence to cast doubt, highlight inconsistencies, or imply alternatives, without damaging her emotive and engaging prose. Additionally, her choice of voicing and exploring his relationships with women, which were often volatile and short-lived creates not only an affinity with Vincent, but the volatile and difficult lives of women like Sien, Margot, but also the angelic Sister Epiphany and Jo’s complex balance between caring for her brother-in-law along and her own son. Russo’s work is phenomenal in the illustration of his life, and understandably makes a mark on the heart of the reader.

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OMG, I love Donna Russo, I love her writing style and I love Vincent Van Gogh. This book was incredible to read. I was able to get through it in a day! She have a way of bringing the past to life. The individual characters have a voice, I can hear it in my head. Her descriptions are so wonderful that I can see the settings. Honestly, I was trying to figure out who I would choose to portray the characters of this book if it were made into a movie...

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