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  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780440419174
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Vincent Van Gogh

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Portrait of an Artist

Written by Jan GreenbergAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jan Greenberg and Sandra JordanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Sandra Jordan


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: February 04, 2009
Pages: 144 | ISBN: 978-0-307-54874-0
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books
Vincent Van Gogh Cover

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   Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor book by the ALA. This is the enthralling biography of the nineteenth-century Dutch painter known for pioneering new techniques and styles in masterpieces such as Starry Night and Vase with Sunflowers. The book cites detailed primary sources and includes a glossary of artists and terms, a biographical time line, notes, a bibliography, and locations of museums that display Van Gogh’s work. It also features a sixteen-page insert with family photographs and full-color reproductions of many of Van Gogh’s paintings. Vincent Van Gogh was named an ALA Notable Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and has been selected as a Common Core State Standards Text Exemplar (Grades 6–8, Historical/Social Studies) in Appendix B.


A Brabant Boy


I have nature and art and poetry. If that is not enough what is?

--Letter to Theo, January 1874

ON MARCH 30, 1853, the handsome, soberly dressed Reverend Theodorus van Gogh entered the ancient town hall of Groot-Zundert, in the Brabant, a province of the Netherlands. He opened the birth register to number twenty-nine, where exactly one year earlier he sadly had written "Vincent Willem van Gogh, stillborn." Beside the inscription he wrote again "Vincent Willem van Gogh," the name of his new, healthy son, who was sleeping soundly next to his mother in the tiny parsonage across the square. The baby's arrival was an answered prayer for the still-grieving family.

The first Vincent lay buried in a tiny grave by the door of the church where Pastor van Gogh preached. The Vincent who lived grew to be a sturdy redheaded boy. Every Sunday on his way to church, young Vincent would pass the headstone carved with the name he shared. Did he feel as if his dead brother were the rightful Vincent, the one who would remain perfect in his parents' hearts, and that he was merely an unsatisfactory replacement? That might have been one of the reasons he spent so much of his life feeling like a lonely outsider, as if he didn't fit anywhere in the world.

Despite his dramatic beginning, Vincent had an ordinary childhood, giving no hint of the painter he would become. The small parsonage, with an upstairs just two windows wide under a slanting roof, quickly grew crowded. By the time he was six he had two sisters, Anna and Elizabeth, and one brother, Theo, whose gentle nature made him their mother's favorite. The youngest van Goghs, Wilhelmien (called Wil) and Cornelius, were born after Vincent went away to school.

Their mother, Anna Carbentus van Gogh, herself one of eight, came from an artistic background. Her father had been a bookbinder to the royal family. A gifted amateur artist who filled notebooks with drawings of plants and flowers, she thought Vincent had a pleasant talent that might be useful someday. She didn't suspect he would develop into a great artist. In fact she recalled only that he once modeled an elephant out of clay but smashed it when she and his father praised it more than he thought they should. For the same reason he tore up a drawing of a cat climbing a tree. It wasn't his artistic ability but his obstinate personality that left the biggest impression on his mother. That willful stubbornness turned up again and again as he grew older.

With a big family and a little house, the children spent a lot of time out of doors. The freckled, red-haired Vincent, solitary by nature, often wandered by himself in the fields and heaths that surrounded the parsonage. He became familiar with the seasons of planting and harvest and with the hardworking local farm families whose labors connected them to the soil. The strong feeling he developed for the rural landscape of Brabant and the lives of its peasants would be one of the major influences in his life.

Mostly he did what boys like to do. He collected bugs and birds' nests. He teased his sisters. He built sand castles in the garden with Theo. Sometimes he invented games for all of them to play. After one exciting day his brothers and sisters thanked Vincent by staging a ceremony, and, with mock formality, presented him with a rosebush from their father's garden.

Theodorus, Vincent's father, a pastor from a long line of pastors, was one of eleven children. His family had been members of the bourgeois for generations, with middle-class connections all over the Netherlands. People in Groot-Zundert called Mr. van Gogh the "Handsome Pastor" for his good looks but found his long sermons boring. The province of Brabant, where the village was located, was a farming district populated mainly by Catholics. The pastor's Dutch Reformed congregation had only 120 members, and as a result, he didn't make much money. Family finances were tight. Vincent attended the village school until his parents, worried that the peasant children were making their son rough, hired a governess to teach the children at home.

When Vincent was only eleven, his parents sent him away to Mr. Provily's school in the nearby town of Zevenbergen. Waving goodbye on the steps of the school, he watched his mother and father's little yellow carriage drive down the road until it disappeared. The gray autumn sky matched his mood. His parents noticed how sad he looked. A few weeks later, as Vincent stood in the corner of the playground, someone told him he had a visitor. His father had come back to check on him. Overcome with emotion, Vincent fell on his father's neck, but still he had to remain in school. Though he would visit and even live at home in the years to follow, it was the beginning of what he felt to be a life of exile.

Vincent's schoolmasters didn't consider him an outstanding student. He was intelligent but no scholar. Still, after two years at Mr. Provily's, Vincent moved up. His parents valued education, and they sent their eldest son to an impressive new school in the nearby town of Tilburg--King Willem II State Secondary School.

The school had nine teachers for only thirty-six pupils, so Vincent's days were busy. He took a long list of courses: Dutch, German, French, English, arithmetic, history, geography, geometry, botany, zoology, gymnastics, calligraphy, linear drawing, and freehand drawing. The drawing classes were considered part of a well-rounded gentleman's education, not preparation for a career. He ended his first term well enough to be one of five boys in his class of ten who were promoted. However, in March of the following year, the family took him out of school, probably for financial reasons. He left with a passion for novels and poetry and a working knowledge of four languages. In that era many children finished school at fifteen and apprenticed in a trade, but Vincent sat at home for more than a year before the family reached a decision about his future.

Three of his father's five brothers--Uncle Vincent (whose nickname was Cent), Uncle Cor, and Uncle Heim--owned flourishing art galleries, the charismatic Uncle Cent being the most successful of the three. The French firm of Goupil et Cie, with headquarters in Paris and branches in London, Brussels, and The Hague, had purchased his gallery and made him a partner. Cent, now semiretired for health reasons, maintained an interest in the firm. Married but with no children of his own, he took an active role in the lives of his young nephews and nieces. So Vincent, his namesake, was offered an opportunity to learn the art business.

In July 1869 Vincent began his apprenticeship in The Hague, an elegant and historic town that was the center of the Netherlands government. The Goupil gallery branch there looked like an upper-class drawing room, not a commercial establishment. Doorways between the rooms were draped with swags of heavy fabric trimmed with fringe. Oriental rugs covered the floors. On the brocaded walls, gold-framed pictures hung all the way to the ceiling. Customers at Goupil could see for themselves how the paintings would look in their own richly decorated houses.
Jan Greenberg

About Jan Greenberg

Jan Greenberg - Vincent Van Gogh
“There is a feeling that comes over me when I’m writing well. It is the same feeling I get from seeing a great painting. All my senses are engaged. The imagination runs free. Ultimately, it’s an act of sharing.”—Jan Greenberg

Jan Greenberg’s books have been named an ALA Notable Book, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, an IRA Teachers’ Choice, and a Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book.


Since childhood, Jan Greenberg’s life has been focused on art and writing, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that she combined these two interests, eventually writing two important books on art for young adult readers.

While other children were playing basketball or computing complex mathematical formulas, Greenberg was reading and writing poetry and stories. Her favorite book was A Little Princess (“I must have read it 30 times”).

Her interest in contemporary art was stimulated during her years at a private school in St. Louis, Missouri. The art educator from the local museum came each week to show films and slides of abstract expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock.

After her marriage, Greenberg was surrounded by contemporary art. Her husband has a gallery, and at home their private collection was growing. Greenberg’s interest in writing about art grew out of her desire to make the subject comprehensible to children: “I noticed that young children were open to contemporary art, but by the time they reached their teens, many didn’t understand it. The Painter’s Eye came out of my desire to help young people develop a language of art.”

Together with a group of art educators, she developed a system of looking at art that could be used in the classroom. Out of this came both The Painter’s Eye and The Sculptor’s Eye, which Greenberg wrote with Sandra Jordan, a writer and photographer based in New York City. Each book includes interviews with the artists, full-color reproductions, and photos of the artists at work. Reference features include a glossary of art terms, list of museums, bibliography, and index in each volume.

Greenberg is the author of several novels. She teaches writing at Webster University in St. Louis, and is also an art educator who visits schools to give presentations about art and writing. She has three grown daughters and a bulldog named Jasper (for the artist, Jasper Johns).


Portrait of an Artist
(with Sandra Jordan)

—A Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
—An ALA Notable Book

“An exceptional biography.”—Starred, Booklist

“This outstanding, well-researched biography is fascinating reading.”—School Library Journal

(with Sandra Jordan)

—An ALA Notable Book
—A Booklist Editors’ Choice
—A Child Study Children’s Book Committee Children’s Book of the Year
—A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
—A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
—An IRA Teachers’ Choice
—A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book

“[An] intelligent, articulate, and handsome introduction to the language of art.”—Starred, Booklist

“An excellent book for art students, as well as for teachers who are looking for words and ways to explain contemporary art to their classes.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“Beautifully designed, organized, reasoned, and presented, an outstanding, mind-expanding book.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

(with Sandra Jordan)

“A companion to The Painter’s Eye that’s equally enriching, intelligently organized, and provocative. . . . Handsome and inspiring.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“Sometimes matter-of-fact, sometimes dreamy, and always thought-provoking.”—Starred, The Bulletin

“Greenberg and Jordan demonstrate mastery of the language of art and of the vocabulary of young people.”—Starred, School Library Journal



WINNER 2002 ALA Notable Children's Book
WINNER 2002 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2002 Maine Student Book Master List
WINNER 2002 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor Book

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