Born in 1853, Vincent van Gogh grew up in a rigid, religious household and read books as a formative part of his upbringing. His reading materials were often a reflection of his life at the time – religious texts when planning to become a Protestant minister like his father, and French novels when contemplating a move to Paris.
Reading books is like looking at paintings: without doubting, without hesitating, with self-assurance, one must find beautiful that which is beautiful.
In his many recovered Letters, van Gogh would regularly quote books and authors he admired, and often offer recommendations to his brother Theo. He appeared to favor direct writing styles that dealt with rebellious characters and honest depictions of everyday life, much like the subjects of his paintings. From Dickens and Hugo to Harriet Beecher Stowe, find Vincent van Gogh’s reading list below, compiled by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
L’amour by Jules Michelet
Tartarin de Tarascon by Alphonse Daudet
The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats
Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What the Moon Saw by Hans Christian Andersen
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis,
Chérie by Edmond de Goncourt
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti
Candide by Voltaire
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
La Joie de Vivre by Emile Zola
L’Oeuvre by Émile Zola
(via Van Gogh Museum)