New Study Suggests van Gogh Suffered from ‘Several Comorbid Disorders’

A new study by the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders claims that the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh likely suffered from delirium associated with alcohol withdrawal in the years leading up to his suicide in 1890. Rather than assign a single illness to the artist, as some previous studies have, the paper attempts “to assess all mental symptoms ever reported by Van Gogh in his letters or as found in other sources.”

In addition to interviewing art historians about the artist’s life and work, researchers used hundreds of van Gogh’s letters, many written to his brother, Theo, and other family members, to better understand his condition. The study suggests that the artist experienced “brief psychosis in Arles on the days after the ear incident during which he likely stopped drinking abruptly” and that, between 1874 and 1988, “he almost certainly suffered from several depressive episodes.” It argues that van Gogh likely suffered from a bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that has been assigned to the artist by previous studies of his mental condition, and refutes past diagnoses of schizophrenia as “highly unlikely.”

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[Read about eight international curators’ favorite works by van Gogh.]

The study’s key conclusions are that van Gogh “suffered from several comorbid disorders,” and “no single disorder” can account for the state of his mental health. It describes the artist’s “enormous willpower, resilience, and perseverance” in the face of such struggles, and points out, “Over the years he kept on painting, also during most difficult periods in his life. Only during the most severe psychotic episodes he temporarily stopped working, but in intervals with less symptoms he was able to paint.”

This is not the only research on van Gogh to be released this year. In July, Wouter van der Veen, scientific director of the Van Gogh Institute in France, revealed details about where the artist may have created his final painting, Tree Roots. 


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