Irving Stone is not a "great" biographer. He doesn't provide copious bibliographic details or even pretend particularly to serious scholarship. But he does do his research. What Stone is is a very good storyteller. And the stories he tells, whether about Jack London, Heinrich Schleimann, Michelangelo or Freud, have always entertained and (yes) enriched me.
Van Gogh's biography, and it's companion-piece, Dear Theo, are particularly moving accounts of that great, tragic painter. I doubt if any artist ever despaired as deeply or more profoundly than Vincent. Stone captures the pathos of Van Gogh's few moments of exhiliration, followed always by days of dissilusionment and depression. Van Gogh was the saint and prototype of all struggling artists. The penury and neglect he suffered through shouldn't have to be endured by the mangiest stray animal.
It's one of God's great ironies (Faulkner's cosmic jester?) that Van Gogh's works are bought by Japanese investors and museum collections for umptold millions, whereas their creator, having climbed down to the last rung of despair, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
If you enjoy this book as much as I did, read Dear Theo. It reveals the extraordinarly tender love the two Van Gogh brothers had for each other. Theo was basically Vincent's sole means of support during the artists's latter years. Unfortunately, Theo was living in boderline poverty himself, had a family, and thus couldn't give much to Vincent save for a little bit of money and a great deal of moral encouragement.
Both of these books are infinitely sad, yet the redeeming aspect is that Vincent didn't live his life in vain, as he thought, and that the body of work which has survived ( many paintings were painted over - canvas was a luxury) is a testament to his genius.