16 JUNE 1990, Page 20

Vincent maligned

Sir: I can only suppose that Paul Johnson was chosen to review the current crop of books on Vincent van Gogh (Books, 9 June) in order to irritate anyone who has either studied him seriously or simply feels him to be something like as great a painter as his universal fame and interest for all kinds of artist suggest. If so you must have had a resounding success.

I have noticed before that Mr Johnson believes himself fit to pronounce with authority on the visual arts, and even more so than only too many of our political/ social commentators in print; so I feel I

'It's impossible to wrap anything up in these new .£5 notes.' must offer some correction and a little counter-abuse on the artist's behalf. Van Gogh produced some truly great works (at Nuenen) over five years before he died. Not all his fellow students during his very brief periods at art classes considered him 'dotty'. And in Paris he became artistically indebted to many more painters than Monticelli, having had a 'personal style' from the very beginning.

To refer to van Gogh's later pictures as 'colourful objects' and 'winsome' and corn- . pare them to a Boucher 'popsy' and Landseer's dogs surely reflects the writer's essential vulgarity rather than that of Vin- cent's great constituency which, though patronised by Johnson, happily includes people on every level of intelligence and knowledge of the art of painting.

Bruce Bernard

44 Frederick Street, London WC1