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.


The Bible (also rec’d by Carl Sagan, Leonard Cohen, Martin Luther King Jr.Nick Cave & Maya Angelou)

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, 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (also rec’d by Gabriel García Márquez & Ursula K. Le Guin)

Chérie by Edmond de Goncourt

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (also rec’d by Tom Wolfe)

Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti

Candide by Voltaire

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

King Lear by William Shakespeare (also rec’d by Steve Jobs)

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

Nana by Émile Zola (also rec’d by Tom Wolfe)

La Joie de Vivre by Emile Zola

L’Oeuvre by Émile Zola

(via Van Gogh Museum)

Categories: Artists

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