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Vincent van Gogh's Biography

Vincent van Gogh's Health Conditions

In the hospital, Vincent van Gogh was treated for blood loss and was released in the first week of January 1889. He returned to the Yellow House where he resumed painting familiar motifs such as still-life arrangements and sunflower bouquets. He wrote to his brother, "Since it is still winter...let me go quietly on with my work."

But in mid-January he suffered a hallucinatory incident that required a brief hospitalization. Late in February, his erratic behavior so alarmed his neighbors that they petitioned the mayor to either have him readmitted to the hospital or returned to his family. Van Gogh entered the hospital, where he was allowed to paint on the premises, but the Yellow House was closed.

Acknowledging that the danger of another psychomotor seizure made it impossible for him to live on his own, van Gogh voluntarily entered Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, a psychiatric asylum in nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. There, his condition was diagnosed as a form of epilepsy, and Theo convinced his doctors to allow him to paint.

One of Vincent van Gogh's most famous paintings, The Starry Night, was painted from the artist's hospital room.
Vincent van Gogh painted The Starry NIght
from his hospital room.

At first, van Gogh was required to remain indoors under observation, so Theo secured a ground-floor room with a garden view that he could use as his studio. The window of his hospital room on a floor above overlooked groves of olive and cypress trees, the cluster of buildings around the town church, and the Alpilles hills rising in the distance. The view inspired his painting The Starry Night (1889) in which gleaming stars and trailing comets illuminate a tumultuous sky.

By late June, van Gogh was allowed to work under supervision in the fields near the asylum. During the first week of July, while painting a reaper swinging his sickle in a vast wheat field, van Gogh suddenly went into a severe seizure. The attendant with him later reported that van Gogh drank turpentine and tried to eat his paint. Debilitated for more than five weeks, van Gogh was tormented by nightmares and his swollen throat made it difficult to eat.

By September, he was again able to write to Theo and resume his painting, but since he was confined to the asylum, he painted his own portrait and copied prints that he had in his possession, including reproductions of paintings by Millet and Delacroix.

With his enduring conviction that painting outdoors before nature would restore his health, he now planned to leave the asylum and move to Auvers-sur-Oise, a village north of Paris. Although he informed Theo that "I could almost believe that I have a new period of lucidity before me," he realized that further seizures were likely.

His spirits were buoyed by increasing recognition. Starry Night over the Rhône (1888) was well received at the autumn exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants, and he was invited to present his work in Brussels in February at an exhibition organized by the Symbolist circle Les Vingt. In January 1890, the young critic G.-Albert Aurier published an appreciation of his work in the popular journal Mercure de France.

Theo, who had married Johanna Bonger the previous April, became a father on January 30 and named his son Vincent Willem. But a series of attacks -- in December and again in January and February -- forced van Gogh to remain in the asylum until his condition was stable. On May 16, van Gogh checked himself out of the asylum in Saint-Rémy and traveled by train to Auvers-sur-Oise.

Van Gogh spent his final days painting in Auvers-sur-Oise, before taking his own life. Read about van Gogh's death in the next section.

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