Imagine sitting in a blossoming orchard beside an unknown Vincent van Gogh, watching him paint as he talks of his hopes, his dreams. Minette Ginoux, a young Arlesienne, befriends him when he arrives during a February snowstorm and quickly becomes his confidant. The friendship deepens, but dark clouds threaten this arcadia as Minette discovers Vincents secret moods and habits which shock and repel. The arrival of Paul Gauguin precipitates a string of disasters affecting them both when conflicts erupt between the two men.
Set in a land of idyllic natural beauty, the novel describes the art of van Gogh at its most compelling and reveals a young girls deepest feelings for the artist. Aunt Titi, sister Colette, handsome Etienne Martin who is seeking a wife, the townspeople of Arles, mingle in a rich and suspense- filled drama celebrating the struggles of a gifted yet tormented painter.
READING GROUP GUIDE
for Seeking the High Yellow Note, Vincent Van Gogh in Provence
1. Seeking the High Yellow Note is a novel about the artist Vincent Van Gogh told by Minette Ginoux, a young girl living in Arles with whom he shares a friendship. Set in Provence, during his most productive artistic period, the novel describes the setting and his works in rich detail. Discuss some of the reasons why Van Gogh flourished as a painter in this setting.
2. Through Van Goghs interaction with Minette and the people around him, the personality of the artist is revealed. Vincent tells Minette of his previous failed attempts to succeed in a relationship with women. (See p. 51). Why do you think he was successful in forming a friendship with Minette?
3. It becomes quickly apparent to the reader how dependent Vincent became on the support of his brother Theo, both financially and emotionally. Would you describe such a close bond with a sibling usual or unusual within the bonds of family? Why? Do you think Vincent could have painted as he did without his brothers support?
4. The arrival of Paul Gauguin is fully described in the book (p. 81). What did Gauguin contribute to Van Gogh in furthering his painting? What responsibility does he bear for Vincents decline and illness? Discuss differences in painting techniques of the two artists.
5. Follow the development of the friendship between Minette and Etienne Martin, the young joiner from Nimes. At what point does she give up the possibility of Vincent as a suitor? (See p. 75). Vincent painted The Girl with Coffee Tinted Skin (Minette) and The Young Frenchman of Modern Times (Etienne). Discuss the friendship of Vincent and Etienne.
6. When Vincent speaks of The High Yellow Note in his painting, what does he mean? (p. 126).
7. The book is meant to give a picture of life in Provence in the late 1800s. What was your feeling about farm life as described by Minette on the Martin mas, or farm? Minette and her sister Colette worked as waitresses in the cafe of their Aunt Titi in the town of Arles. How was their life different from that of young girls today?
8. In 1889 Vincent voluntarily entered the asylum at Saint Remy, hoping to receive treatment for his illness. Minette paid one visit to him during this time (p. 175). How would you describe the asylum and the treatment Vincent received there? What caused Vincents illness? Several possibilities have been mentioned, but no conclusions drawn (p.183).
9. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard, now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. (See p. 99). What do you think was the reason for this? Why did sales of his paintings begin so soon after his death? What was the effect of his death on Minette and Etienne? On Theo Van Gogh?