A new exhibition claims Vincent Van Goghs mental illness hampered his work, rather than drove his singular vision and presents fresh medical evidence about his notorious self-mutilation
Madness terrified Vincent van Gogh, yet he also wondered if it was inseparable from artistic genius. In letters to his brother Theo that prove him one of the great writers as well as artists of the 19th century, he broods more than once on an 1872 painting by Emile Wauters called The Madness of Hugo van der Goes, which shows the 15th-century Flemish painter looking a bit like Stanley Kubrick on an intense day as a victim of mental illness.
For Van Gogh this painting captured the dark romantic association of genius and insanity. For the modern age, it is Vincent himself who embodies that fatal creative malady. Yet, a new exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam questions what it sees as a romantic myth about the Dutch artist, who lethally shot himself in a cornfield at Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890.
Using a combination of art, written documents and a severely rusted revolver that was found by a farmer in 1960 in that same cornfield, On the Verge of Insanity argues that far from inspiring his art, Van Goghs illness was an impediment to his talent. It stopped him working for long periods, and he heroically defied its totally uncreative effects to create some of the most powerful art in history.