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Vincent van Gogh Mental Illness Creates Masterpieces

Van Gogh Self Portrait
Van Gogh Self Portrait

Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert, Netherlands. He came from a family of clergymen, art-dealers, and military officers. A servant who worked for the Van Gogh family when Vincent was a child described him as odd, aloof, and having queer manners. At the age 16, Vincent became an apprentice at an art dealer located at The Hague, in Belgium. At the age 20, he was transferred to the London gallery.

In London van Gogh became a teacher. He fell in love with an English girl who rejected him. Sometimes students at the school would taunt Vincent Van Gogh, calling him a queer and a freak. He was unhappy as a teacher, so he decided to satisfy his father's wish that he become a minister. He entered an evangelical school in Brussels and in 1879 he became a preacher southwestern Belgium.

In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris to live with his brother Theo who worked as an art-dealer. Theo introduced him to several popular painters of the time, including Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Paul Gaugin.

In 1888, Van Gogh persuaded Gaugin to come to Arles in southern France to live with him in a house he had set up as an art studio. They spent the autumn painting together. This is when Van Gogh painted his famous Sun Flowers series.

The relationship of Van Gogh and Gaugin was filled with conflict. On Christmas Eve of 1888 Van Gogh and Gaugin had a violent argument. In letters to his brother, Theo, Van Gogh hinted that in the argument Gaugin cut off part of Van Gogh's left ear. But the official story is that Van Gogh cut off a part of his own ear.

Thought to be mentally ill, Van Gogh was committed to the asylum in St. Remy. He continued to paint for the 12 months while he was under medical supervision in the asylum. He was treated by the well-known doctor, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet. Dr. Gachet dignosed Van Gogh was as having mental disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, neurosis, and alcohol poisoning.

In the 19th century digitalis, extracted from the purple foxglove plant, was the main treatment for these disorders. The side effects of digitalis treatment is vision problems similar to viewing the world through a yellow filter, along with glare and colored halos. Dr. Gachet has been charged with mishandling van Gogh’s care by administering excessive doses of digitalis.

After having failed at being a teacher, a minister, and an art dealer, at the age of 27, Van Gogh's incredible artistic talent was beginning to show. Between November 1881 and July 1890 he worked at a feverish pace, creating almost 900 paintings. Van Gogh's most famous paintings are Starry Night, Sunflowers, Irises, Poppies, Blossoming Almond Tree, The Mulberry Tree, and The Potato Eaters.

A study of Van Gogh's work shows that he expressed his internal state of mind in his artwork. When he was in a happy optimistic mood, his work would be bright and bold, one example being his painting Seascape at Saintes-Maries. When he was depressed his work became dark and somber, one example being his painting The Potato Eaters.

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