Boyd Tonkin is a writer, journalist, and critic who chaired the judging panel of the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 and is now a special adviser for the prize. He writes for the Financial Times, The Economist, The Spectator, and The Observer. He is also the author of The 100 Best Novels in Translation (2018). (April 2019)
Van Gogh’s English years gave him not only a technique but a sensibility: literary, visionary, symbol-haunted, always aware—unlike some of his more formalistic disciples—of the written word as an ally, not an enemy, to the drawn or painted line. As for the bold, dynamic strokes that pack tension and action into illustrations from the social-reformer Victorian papers, Van Gogh never abandoned this “English line.” It helped to build up the crow-haunted skies, the wind-scoured wheatfields, the spookily tangled tree-roots, in late paintings of Provence and his final home at Auvers-sur-Oise.