Vincent van Gogh - His Life and Work

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Nancy Alimansky


This course will be held in the BOLLI Gathering Space (a 58’ x 32’ room) with a maximum enrollment of 20. The Gathering Space will be equipped with two HEPA air purifiers.

10-Week Course

Feb. 29 - May 9. No Class April 25.


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is probably one of art history’s most famous painters. People tend to be familiar with some of his best-known work and also know that he sold only one painting before his death. In this course we will study his life in depth starting from his childhood. We will learn about his family dynamics and his struggles, especially with his father. We will explore the extensive challenges he faced, the various jobs he tried while searching for a career he could succeed in, and his constant failures to make a living. We will review his paintings, starting with his early work, which is quite different in style from his later work. We will focus on the extraordinary paintings he produced in his final years.

The book we will be reading includes numerous excerpts from letters he wrote primarily to his brother Theo. These provide extensive information about his struggles and goals in his work and help us to understand him both as a man and an artist. We will also review the contribution that his sister-in-law made in bringing attention to Vincent’s work. Throughout the ten sessions we will analyze his paintings in terms of the principles and elements of design as well as his choice of subject matter. Please note that because each session builds on the one before, regular attendance is strongly encouraged. If you know that you are going to miss more than three consecutive sessions, please consider another choice.

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. There will be a Google site containing questions for each chapter; links to various articles about specific works; and videos, including an excellent series of 6 videos from the Yale University Museum dealing with van Gogh’s life and work.    

Preparation Time

3 hours per week at a minimum for reading, questions, videos and additional articles.


This will be Nancy Alimansky’s 26th teaching experience at BOLLI. For 26 years she was an Associate Professor at Lesley University, teaching management and technology as well as studio art. For three years she conducted tours as a docent at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. Nancy has a BA from Wellesley College, an MAT from Harvard Graduate School of Education and an MBA from Boston College. She has been a professional artist for more than 30 years.