Head of Photography, Alister Sharp, tells us about her favorite artist, Van Gogh, and his history living with mental illness.
Vincent Van Gogh
Portrait de l'artiste
Huile sur toile
H. 65,0 ; L. 54,2 cm.
Don de Paul et Marguerite Gachet, enfants du docteur Gachet, 1949
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist.RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Vincent van Gogh: the rundown
Born: March 30, 1853 (he’s an Aries)
Died: July 29, 1890
Primary location: France
Style: his own – bold and unconventional; inspired by new impressionist artists
My favourite painting: Cafe Terrace at Night
Vincent van Gogh was born in the Netherlands as the son of a pastor. Due to his father’s profession, Van Gogh experienced a religious and cultural upbringing; however, he also struggled with low self-esteem, uncontrollable emotion, and identity and direction issues.
While alive, Van Gogh was unsuccessful and was impoverished for much of his life. He struggled with feelings of incompetence, believing himself to be a failure. Van Gogh also dealt with epilepsy and malnourishment and was severely overworked. In addition to Van Gogh’s physical health issues, he also suffered from anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse. Unable to manage his poor mental and physical health combined with his lack of success, Van Gogh took his life: he shot himself in the chest and died two days later.
"If I could have worked without this accursed disease, what things I might have done.” – Vincent van Gogh
At 27, Van Gogh chose his path as an artist, after having taken several other jobs. He studied art in Belgium, “determined to give happiness by creating beauty.” His early works were sombre and sharply lit, with a colour palette much darker than the vibrant colour palette he’s known for. Later, in 1886, he moved to Paris, where his brother Theo worked as an art dealer. Theo introduced Van Gogh to many post-Impressionist artists, among them Paul Gauguin, a French artist who later became Van Gogh’s mentor. Inspired by the artists he met, Van Gogh began painting with shorter brushstrokes and lightened his palette to emulate the style of post-Impressionists. Unable to properly mimic their style, Van Gogh eventually developed his own bolder and more unconventional style.
In 1888, Van Gogh moved to Arles, renting part of a yellow house (his inspiration for his painting, The Yellow House). He intended for these rooms to be a place where artists could create together. Van Gogh lived at The Yellow House with Gauguin for nine weeks. Despite Gauguin being van Gogh’s mentor and housemate, the two did not get along well. Van Gogh’s poor mental and physical health due to his poor habits (constant consumption of absinthe, lack of sleep, epilepsy, malnourishment, and overworking of himself) resulted in an anxious disposition, worsening the tension between the two artists. Gauguin eventually left Arles after Van Gogh chased him with a razor. Shortly after chasing Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off his ear. Though many believe that the cutting of his ear may have been due to the same manic episode that led him to chase Gauguin, recent theories suggest that it may have been due to his receiving of the news of Theo’s engagement. Van Gogh wrote that his relationship with his brother was aiding in his mental stability, and news of Theo’s engagement was likely an emotional trigger for Van Gogh. Theo also financially supported Van Gogh, as Van Gogh lived in poverty.
"If I was without your friendship I would be sent back without remorse to suicide, and however cowardly I am, I would end up going there.” – letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo, his brother
Later that year, Van Gogh went to an asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment to better his mental health. Two years later, he went to live with Dr Paul Gauchet, a French physician. Dr Gauchet took care of Van Gogh for a few months before he took his own life, shooting himself in the chest. He died two days later, with Theo by his side.
Cool Resources & Media!
Vincent & Theo (Altman)
Van Gogh's Letters: The Mind of the Artist in Paintings, Drawings, and Words, 1875-1890 (Van Gogh)
The painting life of Vincent van Gogh (Molijin)
Cheng, S. (2016, November 1). New evidence changes the story of why Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear. Quartz. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://qz.com/823588/why-vincent-van-gogh-cut-off-his-hear/
The End of a Difficult Road. (n.d.). Van Gogh Museum. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/stories/the-end-of-a-difficult-road
Popova, M. (n.d.). Gaugin's Stirring First-Hand Account of What Actually Happened the Night Van Gogh Cut off His Own Ear. BrainPickings. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/08/23/gauguin-van-gogh-ear/#:~:text=There%20are%20some%20things%20that%20bear%20fruit.&text=Despite%20the%20frenzied%20enthusiasm%20and,serve%20as%20mentor%20and%20master
Self Portrait, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh. (n.d.). https://www.vincentvangogh.org/self-portrait.jsp. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.vincentvangogh.org/self-portrait.jsp
Vincent's Life, 1853-1890. (n.d.). Van Gogh Museum. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/art-and-stories/vincents-life-1853-1890
Vincent van Gogh Biography. (n.d.). Van Gogh Gallery. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/biography.html
Vincent van Gogh chops off his ear. (n.d.). History. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/van-gogh-chops-off-ear
Vincent van Gogh's Biography: Mental Health. (n.d.). Van Gogh Gallery. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/mental.html
Wolf, P. (2001, November). Creativity and chronic disease Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071623/#:~:text=Plagued%20by%20psychiatric%20illness%20throughout,drug%20also%20dampens%20creative%20abilities
The Yellow House (The Street). (n.d.). Van Gogh Museum. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/collection/s0032V1962