Lust for Life

By Irving Stone

24,881 ratings - 4.19* vote

Lust for Life is the classic fictional re-telling of the incredible life of Vincent Van Gogh. "Vincent is not dead. He will never die. His love, his genius, the great beauty he has created will go on forever, enriching the world... He was a colossus... a great painter... a great philosopher... a martyr to his love of art. "Walking down the streets of Paris the young Vincen Lust for Life is the classic fictional re-telling of the incredible life of Vincent Van Gogh. "Vincent is not

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Book details

Paperback, 431 pages
February 1st 1990 by Arrow

(first published 1934)

Original Title
Lust for Life
0099416425 (ISBN13: 9780099416425)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


I have always been fascinated with Vincent Van Gogh's art and of the man himself. Starry Night is my favorite painting. Irving Stone allows us a peek at Van Gogh the person and how the events of his life shaped the genius of his painting. Stone uses his pen as a brush to paint his portrait of Van Gogh and helped me to better understand the man behind the paintings.


This is a book I can read in less than 24 hours

(24 hours for almost 600 pages in Indonesian translation)

I have a little problem with rating stars, I can't give this book only a 5 star. It deserves a 10 stars!!

It's by far my most favorite book, I won't lend this book to anyone so then I can reread it whenever I want ;), I'll put it on my precious collection.

If I'm not wrong this is his word when he had a heated debate with Gauguin;
Van Gogh: 'It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures.'

He's genius and he's still young when he said that. This is what designers need to embrace when they do their work, good design is a design with a soul.. SOUL,- find the essence of your design, not only design pretty stuff.

What a tragic life he has, never received happiness and poor during his lifetime but became popular after his death. He should have lived longer then produced more great works, I wish he could see now that he's a great painter in history and sold the most expensive paintings in the world

The book gives me a suspicion that Gauguin who cut off Vincent's ear. He seemed to be so annoying for Vincent with his vanity as senior painter. I dislike the way Gauguin underestimated Vincent. Vincent was really a kind friend let him stayed with him in yellow house for free.

And the saddest thing, his life is still in mystery, last 2009 I've read the news, he never shot himself, so who actually shot him.

I feel so sorry for Theo, the best brother ever.
I must admit it, this book brought me into tears, impressive job for Stone Irving and glad to know that this is his first book.

P.S I really want to own English version of this book.

La Tonya Jordan

This book is set in a period of time where titles, status, manners, and integrity of your family's name is very important. Vincent Van Gogh is testing all venues of social norms. With the constant support, love, and devotion of his brother Theo, Vincent Van Gogh became the artist, man, and living legend he is today. A name that will live forever in eternity for his contributions in art.

He started painting the peasants, laborers, weavers, and the outcast of society long before it was fashionable. He actually portrayed these people as he truly saw them in all their hardships, love, perseverance, naivete, kindness, and hatreds leaving the elitist mystified at what was presented before them.

When he ventured into color and the Impressionists movement in Paris and later in Arles, his work became breathtaking. But, his life more complex. With an unsettled mind that only the soul could possibly understand, Vincent Van Gogh take his own life. My he rest forever in the peace with the God that created him.

'Try a Cointreau. You'll have to experiment for a while to find your permanent drink.'

Vincent took them in the full spirit of friendship which knows that the difference between giving and taking is purely temporal.


I bought this book because it interested me on two levels. First, and ridiculously foremost, the authors name. Irving. The last name of my beloved John. And secondly, it’s a novel about Van Gogh. Van Gogh is nothing if not interesting.

Yet, I was surprised at just how into this book I was. I loved it. I loved Van Gogh’s story as an artist. I loved all that other artists in the story.

Can you imagine sitting at a cafe in Paris with the likes of Van Gogh, Toulouse-Laurtec, Cezanne, Gauguin, Zola and Rousseau? To listen the the arguments and philosophies of the men that were changing the way that people saw art. Because, holy shit would that be awesome.

I loved Theo, and how much he and Vincent loved each other.

It’s impossible for this book to be all the way true, because how was this author to know the conversations that went on. Also, there seems to be dispute about the infamous ear incident. Some say the whole thing, some say just the lobe. The book says he cut most of it off but left the lobe. But I appreciate it all the same. Not just a biography, and not just a novel.

Very good. I have been reading biographies of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Expressionist artists all day. I’m fascinated and intrigued, much more than I thought I would be. I want to see the movie about Vincent and Theo, aptly named, Vincent & Theo, with Tim Roth.

Also, have been reading the letters of Van Gogh where Vincent highly encourages Theo to smoke a pipe, as it chases away the blues. Ha!


I read this in portuguese and loved it.


Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh? Whoda thunk it. It's like choosing Charlton Heston to play Michelangelo. Oh, wait. That was done too.

I didn't expect to like this that much as I went into it. I read The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo and seem to remember thinking it was pretty okay, though strangely I can't recall where or when I read it. But I have this issue with books like this, historical fiction if you will. It's hard for me to suspend my disbelief in books featuring a real person. I want to take the author and shake him/her a few times and ask repeatedly, "Really? Was it really like that? Did so-and-so really say that??" And then heaven forbid the author drop some language that would be inappropriate for the context... forget it. I then hate the entire book. So I went into reading this one thinking I might have that trouble.

But I didn't. I actually really enjoyed it. At least once I reached the halfway mark. Once Vincent went off to Paris the story really picked up for me and I realized I seemed to care for these characters. In Paris Stone dropped a lot of artist's names, and there was discussion of pointillism and Impressionism and I'll admit my dorky art-loving heart expanded just a wee bit at all of that. Toulouse-Lautrec? Hot!

At the very end of the book there's this teeny little note from Stone in which he discusses the believability of his story. Apparently he got most of his information from the letters between Vincent and his brother, Theo. Incidentally I think I fell in love with Theo in this story. That's a good man, that Theo. There should more folk like him in the world.

So whatever I thought about The Agony and the Ecstasy I would say that I probably enjoyed Lust for Life even more. I'm not sure why I feel dirty admitting that, but I sorta do.

And there was this whole bit about van Gogh's painting of Bedroom in Arles which sort of made me gooey with love.

Since I'm being all intimate here, I will also admit to listening to one of my
favorite songs more than once while reading this book today.


After finishing Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” I turned to his other historical novel about an artist.

Aptly titled “Lust for Life,” the book covers the short painting career of Dutch post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh, who became an artist after failed stints as a teacher and minister. He was 27-years-old. Stone’s principal references were the hundreds of letters exchanged between Vincent and his chief patron, his brother Theo. Luckily, these correspondences survive.

Initially, the artist’s somber palette: dark earth tones, lots of browns, mimicked the other Dutch painters. But at the encouragement of his brother, Vincent moved to Paris and discovered the brighter hues being used by the Impressionist artists. Van Gogh’s palette and subject matter brightened as well, but it wasn’t until he moved to sunny Arles, to paint the bright fields of the countryside that the struggling painter hit his creative stride. He also embraced the color most associated with his work: yellow.

“As the summer advanced, everything became burnt up. He saw about him nothing but old gold, bronze and copper, covered by a greenish azure sky of blanched heat. There was sulphur yellow on everything the sunlight hit. His canvases were masses of bright burning yellow. He knew that yellow had not been used in European painting since the Renaissance, but that did not deter him. The pigment yellow oozed out of the tubes onto his canvas, and there it stayed. His pictures were sun steeped, sun burnt, tanned with the burning sun and swept with air,” Irving Stone writes.

Most of van Gogh’s best-known works were produced during his time in the French countryside. He produced masterpiece after masterpiece as Stone writes:

“Every morning Vincent arose before dawn, dressed, and tramped several kilometers down the river or into the country to find a spot that stirred him. Every night he returned with his finished canvas, finished because there was nothing more he could do with it. Directly after supper he went to bed.

“He became a blind painting machine, dashing off one sizzling canvas after another without even knowing what he did. The orchards of the country were in bloom. He developed a wild passion to paint them all. He no longer thought about his painting. He just painted. All his eight years of intense labour were at last expressing themselves in a great burst of triumphal energy. Sometimes, when he began working at the first crack of dawn, the canvas would be completed by noon. He would tramp back to town, drink a cup of coffee and trudge out again in another direction with a new canvas.

“He did not know whether his painting was good or bad. He did not care. He was drunk with colour.”

Vincent’s frenzy certainly must have led to creative exhaustion. Although van Gogh only painted for ten years before committing suicide in 1890, he managed to create an enormous body of work, more than 2,000 pieces, including 900 paintings and roughly 1,100 drawings and sketches.

An oeuvre that is today worth billions of dollars, while he died more or less penniless with only his brother Theo to mourn his passing.

Stone’s novel is a good initial peak into the artist’s remarkable struggles.


Either Irving Stone is a brilliant author writing this book in a simplistic style in order to capture Van Gogh's simple lifestyle and open-minded thinking (for the day) or this book is a travesty, one that could have been written elegantly in a way that would have reflected the beauty of Van Gogh's art. Since I can't make up my mind which it is, I have compromised with a 3-star rating.

What I liked:

*The author uses 700-plus letters from Van Gogh to his loving brother, Theo, as the foundation for this novel. At the end of the book, Stone tells exactly what minor parts are fiction. I was impressed with how accurate he kept this book. Not many people lead lives that can be novelised with so few additions and alterations. And honestly, the fiction part that Stone added seemed glaringly obvious. It was not needed.

*I like that the book was divided into 8 sections comprising of the 8 places where he led his life. Each place taught him something new that improved his artwork.

*The author did a good job of writing in such a way that the reader felt like they were inside Van Gogh's head. He did this while writing in 3rd person.

*I am glad to know that Van Gogh wasn't just the crazy painter who chopped off his ear as I had thought of him previous to reading this book. It was a good history lesson of the time period, also. I loved seeing how Van Gogh grew as a person as well as an artist. The correlation between good artists and hypersensitive natures was painted in bold strokes.

What I didn't like:

*It took me until I reached the Paris section (288 pages) to accept the writing style. (See opening comments.) I still don't like it but am willing to admit that it may be a stroke of genius. I haven't read any of Stone's other novels so don't know if he always writes this way or if he adopted this style as one that suited Van Gogh's life.

*I feel like I must read a biography of Van Gogh now in order to see if Stone's account needs balancing. Since it was written entirely from Van Gogh's view of the world, I would like to know what other people felt and how they saw Van Gogh. Its difficult for me to believe that Van Gogh was as innocent as he comes across to the reader of this book. But maybe he was. Maybe he was so innocent as to appear different from other folks causing the widespread dislike (with the exception of the Borinage). The Borinage could be explained by that the fact that they were honest, simple folk like Van Gogh and therefore a natural bond was formed.

So, all in all, I'm glad I read this book, but won't deny that it was a struggle to plow through.



I had picked up "Lust for Life" in a secondhand book shop, like most of my books, to read on train trips back and forth from Elmwood Park to downtown Chicago, where I worked opposite the Chicago Tribune building on Michigan Avenue. I knew only a little about art or literature then, and I haven't improved much since that time, although after having read Irving Stone's biography of Van Gogh, I appreciated art and artists much more. I had already read Maugham's "The Moon and Sixpence" based on Paul Gaugin, which led me to be interested in Van Gogh.

Irving Stone, up to that point, seemed to me more of a "popular" writer, therefore an inferior one as opposed to a literary one, due to his works being made into movies. (My views of who was literary and who was not was due to my own inexperience as a reader. Movies and music, for that matter, can often be extensions of an original written work rather than a cheap imitation, and nowadays they often enrich the reading experience.)

Irving Stone opened my eyes through his life of Van Gogh. It is so well written that many of the scenes of his life have stayed with me, and enriched my visits to art museums where his artworks are displayed, especially the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I brought back prints of his paintings to my office in Saudi Arabia where I hung one on my wall-- one of his renditions of the Langlois Bridge, careful not to emphasize too much the human form, since art with human form is bad form according to Wahabi creed, although many young Saudis do not espouse this view today.

I encourage readers to try Irving Stone's biographies to see if they suit their tastes.

Romantical Skeptic

I was going to gripe SO HARD about this book until the very last "author's notes" when I realized the book was published in 1934 and Irving Stone actually got first hand accounts of people who actually knew Van Gogh.

The good
1) The research and consistency with at least some research on Van Gogh and what is believed have been the sequence of events in his life -- he relies on VG's letters to his brother Theo, of which there are 800

2) I learned about Theo Van Gogh - the unheralded, loyal to a fault, younger brother of Vincent. It was really because of Theo that Vincent got himself known at all - Theo supported him financially and emotionally all his life - even when others forsook him.

3) Fascinating time period - the convergence of the the big personalities in art (Paul Gaugin, Seurrat, Rousseau) and literature (Zola, Maupassant) must have been quite an intellectual primordial soup to have lived through. They all come across as whackos of course, but this is la vie de l'art!

The bad
1) The dialogue is hilariously overwrought. I thought I was reading the script of a soap. A lot of operatic scenes of unrequited love, and expressions of magnificent pain. I really didn't enjoy the language and I think it has a lot to do with how old the book is - maybe this is how people expressed drama in the 30s?

2) I listened to a narration of this book and I really, really, really disliked the male narrator's rendition of female voices. It was AWFUL and cringeworthy.

3) Can you put a real life character in the "bad" column just because you didn't like him? I guess I'm going to. What a whiny brat VGV turns out to be. I know, I know, he most likely suffered from undiagnosed depression all his life but holy hell he whinged an awful lot. His poor parents and brother spend he whole time bailing him out of money troubles and women troubles and this guy just keeps whining.

I go back to my belief that when "great" creators create beautiful things, we have to sing the praises of all the supporting cast who let the person even come to a point where that creation was possible. Without Theo, Vincent would have basically starved himself and never created anything.

Side note: After reading about all these deep and intense artists, I wonder if their ghosts are upset that their work now adorns dorm rooms and plastic coasters. I wonder if they would be happy to see so many people enjoy their work, or they would feel furious by the pedestrian way we treat what to them was the work of their life?