Vincent van Gogh: letters, art, and context > Mental state

In late 1888, Van Gogh went through the first in a series of psychological crises. When this proved to be a recurring problem, he had himself admitted voluntarily to a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. He was never entirely restored to his old self. A stay in Auvers-sur-Oise, to the north of Paris, brought no more than temporary relief. On 27 July 1890, he shot himself in the chest. He died two days later, with Theo at his side.


Attacks
“In the crises I feel cowardly in the face of anguish and suffering,” Van Gogh wrote to his brother in 1889. [letter 801] It is striking that as soon as he began to feel better, he would immediately start writing to his brother again. In those letters, he often tried to find good news to report along with the bad.
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Fears
In April 1889, Van Gogh wrote to his younger sister Willemien, “I can’t precisely describe what the thing I have is like, there are terrible fits of anxiety sometimes – without any apparent cause – or then again a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the mind.” [letter 764]
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Hallucinations and nightmares
During his periods of psychological distress, Van Gogh experienced hallucinations and nightmares, which he described in his letters to Theo: “I have moments when I’m twisted by enthusiasm or madness or prophecy like a Greek oracle on her tripod.” [letter 745]
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In hospital
In 1889, Van Gogh voluntarily had himself admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, not far from his home in Arles. Between attacks, he continued painting, and he wrote to his brother: “more than ever I have a pent-up fury for work, and I think that this will contribute to curing me.” [letter 800]
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Suicide
Van Gogh’s final letters give no indication that he was even thinking of killing himself. In his last letter to Theo, he made beautiful sketches of paintings he had just finished, and he seemed to be full of plans.
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