Van Gogh’s Madness and Brilliance

On this day in 1888, Vincent Van Gogh confronts roommate Paul Gauguin with a razor, then turns it on himself, cutting off part of his left ear. Like many creatives, Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, and though he worried about his mental stability, he often neglected his physical health, failed to eat properly and drank heavily. But who was this strange and brilliant man?

Van Gogh was born March 30, 1853, in the Netherlands to an upper middle-class family. He had a difficult, nervous personality and worked unsuccessfully at an art gallery and then as a Protestant missionary among poor miners in Belgium. In 1880, he decided to become an artist, and his early work from this period, the most famous of which is The Potato Eaters (1885), is dark and somber, reflective of the experiences he had among peasants and impoverished miners.

In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris, near his brother Theo, an art dealer who supported and encouraged Van Gogh. Through Theo, Van Gogh was introduced to a number of noted artists, including Paul Gauguin, Camille Pisarro and Georges Seurat. Influenced by these and other painters, Van Gogh’s own artistic style lightened up and he began using more color.

Although Van Gogh remained unsuccessful during his lifetime, and was considered a madman and a failure, in ten years he produced 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life. They include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits characterized by bold colors and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art.

Following the whole ear-thing with Gauguin, Van Gogh spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy. After he discharged himself and moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of homoeopathic doctor Paul Gachet. His depression continued and on July 27, 1890 Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver; he died from his injuries two days later.

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Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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