GOGH, VINCENT (1853 - 1890)
was Vincent Van Gogh?
van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert, a town in
the southern Netherlands. Van Gogh died at his own hand
in France at the age of 37. The son of a Protestant pastor,
he was the eldest of six children and, by all accounts,
had a normal, happy childhood. Van Gogh came from an upstanding
family of clergymen, art-dealers, and military officers,
and his parents wished for him to follow in this tradition.
As a child, he was an insatiable reader, with wide-ranging
interests, including religion. Although his mother was a
talented artist, van Gogh did not pursue art in his early
life. He was especially close to his younger brother, Theodore
(Theo), his most staunch supporter.
In 1873, at age 20, van Gogh traveled to London, fell in
love with an English girl by whom he was rejected. Saddened
and disillusioned, he resigned himself to a solitary life
as a language teacher and a lay preacher in England. From
1879 to 1880, van Gogh did missionary work in southwestern
Belgium. He had deep sympathy for the poor and unfortunate.
He gave away all of his possessions and fell into despair
and poverty. In his solitude, van Gogh began to draw. He
also underwent a spiritual awakening and decided that his
mission in life was to console humanity through art.
Van Gogh moved to Paris, where his brother Theo worked as
an art-dealer. Theo introduced him to many of the popular
painters of the time, including Paul Gaugin, Camille Pissarro,
and Georges Seurat. In 1888 he settled in Arles in Provence,
where he painted his famous series of Sunflowers.
He invited Gaugin to live with him, but the relationship
suffered because of extreme conflict and personality differences.
Gaugin left shortly thereafter. In extreme despair, at the
age of 35, on Christmas Eve of 1888, Van Gogh cut off a
part of his left ear. Mentally ill, he was treated at the
hospital in Arles shortly after this event. He was then
committed to the asylum in St. Remy, where he was under
medical supervision for 12 months. He continued to paint
while in the asylum.
van Gogh shot himself on July 27, 1890. He died two days
later with his brother Theo present. (Theo died only six
months later). Although he sold only one painting during
his life, van Gogh is now considered one of the greatest
Dutch painters since Rembrandt. His fame was probably enhanced
by his well-documented mental difficulties.
whole of van Goghs impressive portfolio was completed
in 10 years This included approximately 800 oil paintings
and 700 drawings. His working life can be broken into two
periods. Many apprenticeships, failures and changes in direction
characterize the first period, from 1873 to 1885. The second
period, from 1886 to 1890, is a period of dedication, rapid
development and fulfillment in his work. He is considered
a post-Impressionist painter, his style quite different
from that of the Impressionists. His work is heavily concerned
with the expressionism characteristic of modern art.
Gogh's visual disorder: xanthopsia? glaucoma?
the multiplictiy of diagnoses, it is not clear if van
Gogh suffered from a visual disorder and if so, its origins.
Van Gogh was treated by the well-known doctor, Paul-Ferdinand
Gachet, a physician for one of the Frances railroad
companies. Gachet may well have treated van Gogh for mania
and/or epilepsy with digitalis. In the 19th century digitalis,
extracted from the purple foxglove plant, was one of the
main treatments for these disorders. It was used as a
sedative, an anticonvulsant, and an anti-manic agent.
Interestingly, on the only two occasions that van Gogh
painted Doctor Gachet he was holding a foxglove plant
(right). Was this van Gogh's way of telling us that he
suffered from the effects of digitalis poisoning at Doctor
of the side effects of systemic digitalis treatment is
a disturbance in yellow-blue vision (xanthopsia),
similar to viewing the world through a yellow filter.
Glare and colored haloes may also be experienced as visual
side effects. Many of van Goghs works have a definite
yellow cast. The Starry Night (below), The Night
Café, Sunflowers (below). Later self-portraits
all have a distinctive yellow hue. The yellow tone in
his painting is especially noticeable in the stars in
The Starry Night, the work Enclosed Field with
Reaper (above), and in van Gogh's flesh in his self-portrait
dedicated to Paul Gaugin (at left). It is possible that
digitalis-induced xanthopsia was making van Gogh perceive
the world with a yellow tint. The predominance of colored
halos around light sources in various works, such as The
Starry Night, may also be attributable to the effects
to the digitalis-induced xanthopsia hypothesis, Doctor
Gachet was well-known for his use and writings on the
careful use of this drug. Gachet has been charged with
mishandling van Goghs care by administering excessive
doses of digitalis. Although Gachet was aware of the potency
of the drug, administering large amounts of digitalis
may have been the doctors only hope in treating
a patient who was seemingly uncontrollable. In addition
to any possible visual disorders, numerous other diagnoses
of van Goghs general health have been suggested.
These include mental disorders such as schizophrenia,
bipolar disorder, neurosis, and epilepsy, as well as syphilis,
gonorrhea, alcohol poisoning (from drinking dark absinthe),
and sunstroke (diagnosed by Dr. Gachet).
it has been proposed that the haloes in van Goghs
works are due to a form of glaucoma. The elevation in
intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma can lead
to corneal edema (swelling). The swollen cornea
diffracts light into its component parts, causing the
observer to perceive colored haloes around light sources.
Since glaucoma is rarely seen among individuals under
age 40, it is unlikely that van Gogh, who died at age
37, was so afflicted. Haloes have been painted historically
to create atmosphere, mood, and symbolism. Van Gogh haloes
may have been painted for the same reasons.
are many alternative explanations for the over-abundance
of yellow found in van Goghs work. He was fascinated
with color and its effects, and often experimented with
different ranges of tone. The effects of xanthopsia should
have minimized the amount of blues in his work. Yet in
most of his paintings there is a strong presence of blue
tones. In his correspondence, he often wrote of the importance
of a balance between yellow and blue in his work. Van
Gogh liked to experiment with different styles and palettes
to suit the impression of each painting. It is possible,
if not likely, that the profusion of yellow is present
solely as part of his artistic style. Nonetheless, xanthopsia
induced by digitalis or some other agent provides an interesting
hypothesis to account for the predominance of yellow in
van Goghs various works.
| Cézanne | Degas
| El Greco | Monet
| Renoir | Van