A conference convened in Amsterdam earlier this month to once and for all answer the question of whether Vincent van Gogh suffered from some sort of medical problem, such as epilepsy, or mental disorder, such as bipolar disorder, during his lifetime. After all, the famous artist of impressionism cut off his own ear when his friend decided to stop being his roommate. Van Gogh ended up spending the last years of his life in a mental hospital.
The conference of 30 international medical experts released its findings. And they won’t sit well with anyone who believed van Gogh was a patron saint of those afflicted with a mental illness.
The symposium, held Sept. 14 and 15, 2016 at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, examined Vincent van Gogh’s entire life — through his paintings, letters, documents, and writings — to try and determine what, if any, mental illness he may have suffered. The conference consisted of 30 leading neurologists, psychiatrists, and internal medicine specialists who discussed competing theories and evidence over the two days.
The illnesses under consideration included bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, epilepsy, cycloid psychosis, and even borderline personality disorder.
Things started going downhill for van Gogh on December 23, 1888 in Arles in southern France. That’s when van Gogh argued with his friend and roommate, Paul Gauguin, and cut off his own ear afterward in a fit of anger. Within two years of the incident, van Gogh was dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Rather than a definitive diagnosis, the experts decided it was likely a combination of factors that contributed to his disturbing behavior, and which ultimately resulted in his untimely death.
“This could come from alcohol intoxication, lack of sleep, work stress and troubles with Gauguin, who was going to leave — attachment being one of his problems in life. He has repeated episodes of psychosis but recovered completely in between,” reported The Daily Telegraph in an interview with Arko Oderwald, moderator of the symposium and a medical ethics professor.