Throughout his life, Van Gogh was an incredibly prolific reader and an avid consumer of novels, newspapers, biographies, and short stories. In the painting above, Parisian Novels, he connects the importance of great art to great literature.
While you can’t read the titles of these books, their yellow and pink covers would have been recognizable to anyone in Paris in the late 1880s. They’re novels from the Parisian publisher Georges Charpentier, who printed his books in the same size and colors as a form of 19th-century branding. His writers included best-sellers Émile Zola, Gustave Flaubert, and Guy de Maupassant. By painting these novels on such a grand scale, Van Gogh communicates his own sophistication as a consumer of Paris’s latest.
Van Gogh was a great fan of Émile Zola especially, devouring his books as soon as they were published. He felt his own peasant paintings had affinity with the writer’s attempts to realistically portray the urban and rural downtrodden. Just like the novels you see immortalized in this painting, Van Gogh’s art told a story about human life.
Image Credit: Vincent van Gogh. Parisian Novels. 1887. Private Collection.