Reading for research… The Yellow House

Martin GayfordI love doing background research for my novels, I guess that’s the journalist in me. With hindsight, I researched my first novel Ignoring Gravity too much, I didn’t recognise the point at which I knew enough and when to let my imagination take over. I was reading about adoption, something I haven’t experienced myself and know no-one who has. So I turned to books [a typical reaction for me]. As a reader, I hate writers who put all their research onto the page. Needless to say, a lot of the stuff I put in the first draft, was stripped out later. Martin Gayford is an art writer I turn to.

My second novel Connectedness is three-quarters written and the researching process was much briefer. It is a sequel to the first book, so still about adoption, but this time I decided to make my new main character an artist. Because… I love art, but what knowledge I have is self-taught and disconnected. So, it was an opportunity to learn. And I have loved the process, going to galleries and exhibitions, trying to paint watercolours, and reading, always reading.

The most dramatic art book I have read by far is The Yellow House by Martin Gayford. It is about the three months in 1888 when Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin shared a house, a house painted yellow, in the French town of Arles. It gives an intimate glance into the head of an artist, the creative process, the doubts, the mania, the egoism. As well as being famous for the time Van Gogh cut off his ear, this period also produced the Sunflowers series, Van Gogh’s Chair and Gaugin’s Chair, and various portraits of the Roulin family and self-portraits by the two artists.

Vincent’s chair symbolised home, for him. Gayford: “Furniture was part of having a home – a nest like the bird’s nests he painted and drew many times while he was working at Nuenen. A domestic nest was something which Vincent strove to attain, and had finally achieved in the Yellow House. On the other hand, empty chairs suggested absent companionship, the loneliness that had often been his lot.” How could I use this for my character Justine Tree? I wanted to find a way to demonstrate how the loss of giving away her daughter for adoption, when she was a student. touched every piece of art she made even decades later as an internationally-acclaimed artist.

I’ve mentioned Martin Gayford before in this blog. As part of my art research, I read his book about sitting for a portrait by Lucian Freud. Sitting on my ‘to read’ shelf is his A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney which I was given for Christmas. I am a huge Hockney fan, even more so after his Yorkshire Wolds series of paintings and i-Pad pictures.

‘The Yellow House’ by Martin Gayford [UK: Little Brown]

If you like art, try these other books I also read as part of my research for ‘Connectedness’:-
‘Breakfast at Sotheby’s’ by Philip Hook
‘Lucky Kunst’ by Gregor Muir
‘My Life in a Column’ by Tracey Emin

Sandra Danby


‘Connectedness’ by Sandra Danby, #2 ‘Identity Detective’ series [UK: Beulah Press]
To read an extract from Ignoring Gravity, #1 ‘Identity Detective’ series, click here.

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Researching #art THE YELLOW HOUSE by Martin Gayford via @SandraDanby