In Breaking van Gogh, James Grundvig investigates the history and authenticity of van Gogh's iconic Wheat Field with Cypresses, currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Relying on a vast array of techniques from the study of the painter's biography and personal correspondence to the examination of the painting's style and technical characteristics, Grundvig proves that the "most expensive purchase" housed in the Met is a fake.
The Wheat Field with Cypresses is traditionally considered to date to the time of van Gogh's stay in the Saint-Rémy mental asylum, where the artist produced many of his masterpieces. After his suicide, these paintings languished for a decade, until his sister-in-law took them to a family friend for restoration. The restorer had other ideas.
In the course of his investigation, Grundvig traces the incredible story of this piece from the artist's brushstrokes in sunlit southern France to a forger's den in Paris, the art collections of a prominent Jewish banking family and a Nazi-sympathizing Swiss arms dealer, and finally the walls of the Met. The riveting narrative weaves its way through the turbulent history of twentieth-century Europe, as the painting's fate is intimately bound with some of its major players.
The book becomes unreadable/unlistenable in the last two hours. While in the beginning the author presents a somewhat solid case in acceptable language, towards the middle the quality sharply drops off.
It’s like only half the book was edited. The second half is raging, chaotic, grandiose and arrogant in tone, states assumptions as facts, gives characters inner monologues that are not backed up but anything and overall reads like a clickbait article written on flashcards and then shuffled.
I caught myself mumbling „what?“ multiple times towards the end as the author found it necessary to point out that the titanic sunk in the same year as some event or - completely without context - suddenly disclaiming that he believes that all cases of looted WW2 will be resolved by 2045, which he then doesn’t back up or elaborate on with a single further word.
The reading is similarly bad, getting overexcited at times, stoically trotting on at others and mispronouncing even basic French and German terms do badly that they become incomprehensible.
In summary, unless your rally want to spend 4 hours of your life listening to something that can only be described as a crossover of angry conspiracy talk radio and a clickbait „you won’t believe what happens next“ article, give this one a pass.
The quality of the writing is a shame as the author initially seems to be making a good point, which is utterly lost in the last two hours of disorganized rambling.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
As painter I bought this book for interest in Vincent Van Gogh. I have listened to this book four times. There is a lot of information. I will be buying a hard copy. I have learned a lot regarding how Vincent worked as a painter and his technique. There is a lot of information regarding the stolen paintings from World War 2. I would recommend this to anyone interested in painting and to all the Van Gogh enthusiasts.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Breaking van Gogh again? Why?
I would definitely listen to this again. The story is highly interesting covering all angles in which the picture wheat field with Cypresses came into existence.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
I knew virtually nothing about this topic and don't follow art or the art world but I was entertained the entire time. It was written very well with plots rises and suspension to keep you wanting to listen.
Have you listened to any of Jeff Cummings’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
This is the first for me.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
I think the areas where he discussed Vincent Van Gogh and how his mental illness and lead poisoning was the reason for his ability to see color so vividly was so heart breaking for me. It made me realize that while we love looking at the art work we hate the reasons that inspired the art work and there's such a bitter irony there.
Any additional comments?
The only thing I didn't like about this book was that while it's discussing historical events the author has a highly emotional spin on everything. Many facts are listed as facts instead of emotional conjecture and that bothered me. The story was well written and presented but sometimes the conclusions were listed as facts when in reality we have no way of knowing and or no evidence. I wish the author had been more clear about this.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
What I like most about this book is that it made me really look at both the paintings in a way I wouldn't have done before. I think the author is correct in his assertion that the Mets is fake.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful
Loved this book, the history was fact full and obviously authenticated by the author. A must listen for artists and art enthusiasts.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful