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Popular Art and the Avant-Garde

Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of Newspaper and Magazine Prints

By Vincent Alessi


‘Vincent Alessi’s book is an important contribution to the literature dedicated to Vincent van Gogh. The influence of English literature and art on his oeuvre was very substantial, especially the popular social realistic prints that he started collecting in the early years of his career and which he considered ‘a Bible for an artist’. Van Gogh’s work underwent a drastic modernistic change after he moved to France in 1886, but he remained true to many of his early ideas and principles. This thorough study of a decisive factor in his formation as an artist is therefore fundamental to the understanding of his art.’ – Sjraar van Heugten, Former head of collections at the Van Gogh Museum

When van Gogh picked up his pencil and set out on his artistic career, it was not with the intention of becoming a leader of the avant-garde art world. Rather, his aims centred on earning a reasonable wage and living within the middle-class norms of his family. Van Gogh’s hope was to become an illustrator of magazines and newspapers. 

From 1880–85 van Gogh assembled a collection of over 2,000 black-and-white prints, predominately from English publications such as the Graphic and the Illustrated London News. These prints were produced in the thousands to accompany news stories or as stand-alone illustrations to be pinned up in the family home. 

Vincent Alessi reveals for the first time how van Gogh’s collection acted for him as both inspiration and manual: a guide to the subject matter demanded by leading illustrated newspapers and magazines and a model of artistic style. 

These popular images are shown to have palpably shaped van Gogh’s art, throughout his career, and to open up rich new understandings of a life and body of work that continue to intrigue and inspire.

About the Author

Dr Vincent Alessi is a Senior Lecturer in Visual Arts and Art History at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. His research interests include the life and work of Vincent van Gogh, mid-late 19th-Century European art, 19th-Century popular graphic illustration and Australian contemporary visual art and curatorial practice. Vincent has held numerous positions within cultural institutions including as Artistic Director of LUMA | La Trobe University Museum of Art and Curatorial Manager at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne. He has curated exhibitions both nationally and internationally on artists as diverse as Mike Brown, Philip Hunter, Juan Ford, Julie Rrap and Brook Andrew and on topics varying from Australian abstractionism and modernism to notions of place and identity in contemporary practice.

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