BLink, the weekend magazine of The Hindu’s BusinessLine carried this article of mine on Saturday, august 27, 2016
The last days of Vincent
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum looks back at the most disturbed yet defining years of the Dutch painter’s life
Year 1881. It was at the age of 27 that Vincent Van Gogh considered painting as a full-time occupation. And it wasn’t until 1888 that the Dutch post-Impressionist artist had formed the style that the world remembers him by. In just two years after that — on July 27, 1890 — Vincent shot himself in the chest. The bullet wound ended his life in 48 hours.
‘On the Verge of Insanity’, an ongoing exhibition at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, delves into the last 18 months of the life of the tortured artist, who cut off his ear during an altercation with his friend, Paul Gauguin, the French painter. Vincent’s last days were spent in poverty while battling mental illness. During the few years he devoted completely to painting, he is said to have created over 2,000 pieces — over 850 oil paintings and the rest, sketches. That comes to about three works in just five days.
Despite the frenzied pace, Vincent managed to sell just one painting during his lifetime. The buyer was Anna Boch, a Belgian painter, who paid 400 francs (around $2,000 now) to the impoverished Dutchman, who lived on his brother Theo’s kindness. A heavy drinker who didn’t eat enough, Vincent’s troubled behaviour sent him to a mental institution several times. And his violent fight with Gauguin led people to ask why a man as gifted as him would do any of this.
Van Gogh Museum’s latest exhibition looks into some of these controversial episodes: Whether or not Vincent cut off only a part of his left ear; whether he was forced into taking admission at the mental asylum; the reasons behind his fight with Gauguin, and his relationship with Theo in the troubled years.
The display of information on Vincent’s mental condition — drawn from diagnoses by doctors as well as his correspondence — is punctuated with paintings that mirror the state he was in.
Some of his letters are also available as audio clips in Dutch and English. Among the exhibits is a letter from the residents of Arles, the French town where Vincent cut off his ear, who begged the local mayor to have the painter institutionalised.
While the exhibition is a detailed reconstruction of events that led to Vincent’s suicide, it also includes posthumous diagnoses over the last century into the probable causes of his illness. Quite predictably, the answers are inconclusive.
‘On the Verge of Insanity’ runs till September 25; www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/whats-on/exhibitions