Revelations: What ailed Van Gogh?

Researchers say psychosis forced iconic painter to commit suicide


Afp September 18, 2016
Van Gogh’s psychotic episodes became increasingly frequent after he sliced off his ear in December 1888, which also marked the end of his friendship with Gauguin. PHOTO: FILE

THE HAGUE: Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh was possibly bi-polar or had a borderline personality, but a combination of factors likely drove him to cut off his ear and commit suicide, a researcher said on Friday. “We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to draw a final deduction about his illness,” said Louis Van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at Amsterdam’s renowned Van Gogh Museum.

Van Tilborgh, this week, led a two-day panel discussion with researchers and medical experts — particularly psychiatrists — on the fringes of the museum’s latest exhibition called On the Verge of Insanity, which delves into the Dutch master’s mental state. The panel aimed to find some modern medical explanations for the mental illness which ended with Van Gogh’s suicide on July 27, 1890, at Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, at the age of 37. “Before the episode with his ear, he possibly suffered from a borderline or bipolar personality,” Van Tilborgh said.

It was more likely a combination of factors that set off a psychosis; his excessive drinking, particularly of absinthe liquor, his bad eating habits and his deteriorating relationship with the post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin.

After Van Gogh sliced off his ear in December 1888 which also marked the end of his friendship with Gauguin his psychotic episodes became increasingly frequent, Van Tilborgh added. “He went back to work, but developed a fear that these episodes would return and this fear increased after every episode. This fear eventually led to his suicide, two years later.”

The museum’s On the Verge of Insanity exhibition focuses on the artist’s final 18 months and features a number of interesting exhibits including the suspected gun used in his suicide.

It also, for the first time, reveals that the tortured artist cut off his whole left ear and not just a part of it, as many people had previously believed.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2016.

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