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Van Gogh: geniality and disease

La tristesse durera toujours (sadness will last forever). These were Van Gogh's last words. One of the greatest painters of all times died in Theodore's arms on July 29, 1890 in a small town near Paris called Auvers-sur-Oise. To Van Gogh, Theodore was simply Theo, his brother and only friend. Two days before, on a Sunday, Van Gogh had shot his own chest after finding a site to work in a wheat field. His last words reveal the depressive stage of his ailment: the Bipolar Affective Disorder (BPAD). Vincent Willen Van Gogh was born in Groot Zundert, the Netherlands, on March 30, 1853. Very little is known about his childhood. He learned English, French and German, but left school to work with an uncle in Haia when he was only 15. At the age of 24, Van Gogh decided to become a protestant missionary and left for the coal mines of Borinage, in Belgium. There, he struggled for better social conditions for the mine workers. As his efforts were misunderstood by his ecclesiastical superiors, he was made redundant. At that moment, he decided to start a career as a painter. From that time on, his brother Theo began to support Vincent Van Gogh with his earnings.

Van Gogh lived in Belgium, in the Netherlands, and in Paris before he settled down in Arles, south of France, in 1888. His goal was to found an art community, so he named his atelier-home The Yellow House and painted the Sunflowers series to decorate it. Despite his ambitious plans, only Paul Gaughin accepted his invitation to join the community in Arles. This was Van Gogh's most productive phase. Within the three years before his death, he painted around 400 art pieces. It was the time of vigorous brush strokes with intense tones of yellow and lively red, colors and expressions that revealed his feelings.

Van Gogh's emotional instability was the cause of usual fights with Gaughin, so that one evening, on one of his manic-depressive attacks, he was chasing Gaughin while holding a knife. On that night, Gaughin found shelter in a hotel. Upon returning the next day, he was told that Van Gogh had been taken to the hospital. He had cut off his own ear and packed it in order to take it to a prostitute, as a gift. That made Gaughin flee to Paris immediately.

Alone and aware of his illness, Van Gogh decided to be incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémyde-Provence. In 1890, he left the hospital and moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, where he could always see Dr. Gachet, the so-called artists' doctor. After a very productive phase, he unexpectedly commited suicide. The only work Van Gogh sold in his lifetime - The Red Vineyard - costed about 400 Francs. In 1990, one hundred years after his death, the painting Portrait of Doctor Gachet was sold US$ 82.3 million.

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    10 May 2010
  • Date of issue
    Feb 2010
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