Van Gogh’s ‘terrifying environment’ of French asylum revealed

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London, Aug 25 (IANS) Details have emerged of the most harrowing period in the life of Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh including the names of the men who shared his year of confinement in an asylum in France.

This was a period of anguish but extraordinary creativity for Van Gogh in which he produced some of his most dazzling and beloved works, all based on brief outings, the views through the barred window of his room and many days spent painting in the asylum gardens, the Guardian reported on Saturday.

Author and journalist Martin Bailey, an expert on Van Gogh’s life, has traced the admissions register and other records from Saint-Paul de Mausole, a small asylum on the outskirts of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, for the period when Van Gogh was admitted as a private patient.

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The register shows a Van Gogh, 36, but born in the Netherlands, was admitted on May 8, 1889.

Through the register, Bailey traced the 18 male patients including an elderly priest who was described as constantly smashing up furniture and crockery.

Van Gogh, aged 20, would spend the next half century in the asylum and die there in 1932.

He described fellow patients, whom he called “my companions in misfortune”, slumped into silent resignation, with no treatment and nothing to fill their days except the next stodgy meal, eaten with a spoon because of the risk from knives and forks.

In one letter, he described the long nights: “One continually hears shouts and terrible howls as of animals in a menagerie.”

The artist was admitted in the asylum after his brother and friends judged him to be unfit to live alone after he mutilated himself, cutting off his ear and presenting it, wrapped in paper, to a young woman in a brothel, following the collapse of a proposed artistic partnership with Paul Gauguin.

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Van Gogh was released on May 16, 1890, at his own request, despite evidence of mental collapse following his previous brief breaks from the asylum.

–IANS

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