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Encyclopedia > Vincent van Gogh's medical condition

There is no consensus on the medical condition of Vincent van Gogh. Many competing hypotheses have been put forward. These include epilepsy, bipolar disorder, sunstroke, acute intermittent porphyria, lead poisoning and Ménière's disease. Vincent Willem van Gogh (Dutch pronunciation: ) (March 30, 1853 – July 29, 1890 ) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist. ... For other uses, see Bipolar. ... Hyperthermia is an acute condition resulting from excessive exposure to heat, it is also known as heat stroke or sunstroke. ... Acute intermittent porphyria (AIP) is a rare metabolic disorder that is characterized by a deficiency of the enzyme, porphobilinogen deaminase (PBG-D), also known as uroporphyrinogen I-synthase. ... Lead poisoning is a medical condition, also known as saturnism, plumbism or painters colic, caused by increased blood lead levels. ... Ménières disease (or syndrome, since its cause is unknown) is named after the French physician Prosper Ménière, who first reported that vertigo was caused by inner ear disorders in an article published in 1861. ...


Symptoms and characteristics

Various symptoms are described in Van Gogh's letters and other documents such as the asylum register at Saint-Rémy. The symptoms include: poor digestion and a bad stomach, hallucinations, nightmares, stupor, absent mindedness, impotence, insomnia, and anxiety. Van Gogh suffered from some sort of seizures or crises, and in one of these attacks cut off a part of his ear. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a commune of southern France, in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, in the former province of Provence. ...

One of the most frequent complaints in Van Gogh's letters is the problems he endured with his stomach and digestion.[1] Van Gogh suffered from hallucinations[2] and nightmares at times.[3] He often reported that he was suffering from fever.[4] At various times he reported bouts of insomnia. He was unable to sleep for three weeks prior to his diagnosis of gonorrhea in The Hague.[5] On occasions he sunk into a kind of stupor.[6] Van Gogh reported his impotence to Theo in the summer after he arrived in Arles,[7] and a month later when he wrote to Bernard it seemed to still be very much on his mind.[8] Towards the end of Van Gogh's life he had thoughts of suicide.[9] Gonorrhea (gonorrhoea in British English) is among the most common sexually-transmitted diseases in the world and is caused by Gram-negative bacterium Neisseria gonorrheae. ...


Van Gogh indulged to an abnormal degree in a number of behaviors, among them fasting and poor eating leading to malnutrition. He also drank large quantities of coffee. He was never without his pipe and smoked it even on his deathbed, and he admitted on several occasions that he smoked too much.[10] He also frequently drank alcohol to excess; in particular, he often drank absinthe.

There is some evidence that Van Gogh nibbled at his paints, and the eating of paints is possibly connected with his seizure around New Year 1890. In January 1890, after another one of Vincent's seizures, Theo wrote to him saying "if you know that it is dangerous for you to have colours near you, why don't you clear them away for a time, and make drawings?"[11] Theo's alarm is somewhat reduced after hearing from Vincent, and five days later he explained: "In [Doctor Peyron's] first letter he gave me to understand that it was dangerous for you to go on painting, as the colours were poison to you, but he went a little too far, which might have been due to his having relied on unverified rumours, as he himself was ill at the time."[12]



Epilepsy has been a popular diagnosis. Van Gogh himself thought that he might be an epileptic[13] and his doctor Felix Rey made the same general diagnosis,[14] as did Dr Peyron at St Rémy[15] A diagnosis of temporal lobe epilepsy was originally put forward in 1928 by Leroy and Doiteau[16] and has received much support.[17] Arnold states that the pattern of van Gogh's seizures, their timing and duration, does not fit well with the complex partial seizures associated with temporal lobe epilepsy.[18] Furthermore, it seems that Vincent's condition was controlled by the administration of bromide, which is effective against grand mal seizures, as well as absinthe intoxication and porphyria, but not for temporal lobe epilepsy.[18] Temporal lobe epilepsy is a form of epilepsy, a chronic neurological condition characterized by recurrent seizures. ... Complex partial seizures are epileptic attacks which involve a greater degree of impairment of consciousness than simple partial seizures. ... A bromide is a phrase, or person who uses phrases, which have been used and repeated so many times as to become either insincere in their meaning, or seem like an attempt at trying to explain the obvious. ... Seizures (or convulsions) are temporary alterations in brain function expressing themselves into a changed mental state, tonic or clonic movements and various other symptoms. ... Porphyrias are a group of inherited or acquired disorders of certain enzymes in the heme biosynthetic pathway (also called porphyrin pathway). ...

Bipolar disorder

Perry in 1947 was the first to put together a serious case for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or "manic depression."[19] It fits well with the well documented periods of intense activity interspersed with periods of exhaustion and possible depression.[20] It has been suggested that not only was van Gogh bipolar, and that the crises in his last two years were brought about by the additional effect of thujone poisoning from his consumption of absinthe.[21] Thujone is a ketone and a monoterpene that exists in two stereoisomeric forms: (+)-3-thujone or α-thujone and (-)-3-thujone or β-thujone. ... A reservoir glass filled with a naturally coloured verte next to an absinthe spoon. ...


The idea that van Gogh might have suffered some form of chronic sunstroke was advocated strongly by Roch Grey.[22] Vincent described the effects of the Arles sun in a letter: "Oh! that beautiful midsummer sun here. It beats down on one's head, and I haven't the slightest doubt that it makes one crazy. But as I was so to begin with, I only enjoy it."[23] A month earlier he had mentioned the effects of the sun in passing in a letter to Theo: "Many thanks for your letter, which gave me great pleasure, arriving just exactly at the moment when I was still dazed with the sun and the strain of wrestling with a rather big canvas."[24] A remark has been attributed to Dr Gachet describing a diagnosis of "turpentine poisoning and the effects of too intense sun on a Nordic brain,"[25] but attempts to confirm this attribution have failed.[26] This article or section contains information that has not been verified and thus might not be reliable. ...

Ménière's disease

The hypothesis that Vincent may have suffered from Ménière's disease — a balance disorder of the inner ear which is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, and vertigo — was first published in 1979 by Yasuda.[27] This idea then reappeared in 1990 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).[28] Arnold refutes the hypothesis, stating that there is no case for Ménière's, and that the logic of the JAMA article was flawed in that it put forward only epilepsy as an alternative diagnosis.[29] The Ménière's diagnosis relies on interpreting van Gogh's gastrointestinal problems as the nausea and vomiting associated with Ménière's. The JAMA artcle's suggestion that Vincent's cutting of his ear was an attempt at self-performed surgery to relieve the Ménière's symptom of tinnitis has been regarded as far-fetched.[29] Ménières disease (or syndrome, since its cause is unknown) is named after the French physician Prosper Ménière, who first reported that vertigo was caused by inner ear disorders in an article published in 1861. ... The inner ear comprises both: the organ of hearing (the cochlea) and the labyrinth or vestibular apparatus, the organ of balance located in the inner ear that consists of three semicircular canals and the vestibule. ...

Lead poisoning

Vincent was reported to nibble at his paints at times; this could account for various forms of metal poisoning. Of the various metals contained in paints, poisoning by lead most closely matches van Gogh's symptoms. Symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, constipation, vomiting, paralysis or paresis.[30] Paresis is a condition typified by partial loss of movement, or impaired movement. ...

Acute intermittent porphyria

Arnold and Loftus put forward the diagnosis of Acute Intermittent Porphyria (often referred to as simply "AIP").[31] Arnold suggests the AIP was exacerbated by malnutrition and absinthe abuse.[32] He cites two case histories of men in their 30's who were demonstrated to have AIP and displayed some symptoms similar to that of Van Gogh, including depression and hallucinations in one case, and complex partial seizures in the other. However, Erickson refutes this diagnosis arguing that the key symptom of urine discoloration was never noted, and that Van Gogh's "bad stomach" does not match the commonly experienced "excruciating abdominal pain" associated with AIP.[33] Erickson and Arnold disagree as to the support offered by the family history, and in particular regarding the status of Vincent's father's health: Arnold, basing his opinion on Tralbaut, believes Theodorus to have been in not-very-good health for most of his life, whereas Erickson chooses to see him as being essentially an active man until a relatively sudden death at age 63. Arnold suggests that Theodorus' quiet and balanced life meant that he avoided several factors that precipitated symptoms and progress of the disorder in his children. Acute intermittent porphyria (AIP) is a rare metabolic disorder that is characterized by a deficiency of the enzyme, porphobilinogen deaminase (PBG-D), also known as uroporphyrinogen I-synthase. ... Complex partial seizures are epileptic attacks which involve a greater degree of impairment of consciousness than simple partial seizures. ...

Other diagnoses

Van Gogh's primary complaints have also been variously attributed to syphilis and absinthe intoxication. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by spirochaete bacterium, Treponema pallidum. ... A reservoir glass filled with a naturally coloured verte next to an absinthe spoon. ...


  • Arnold, Wilfred N. Vincent van Gogh: Chemicals, Crises, and Creativity, Birkhãuser, Boston, 1992. ISBN 0-8176-3616-1.


  1. ^ See letters 215, 307, 316, 321, 442, 448, 449, 450, 458, 469, 474, 478, 480, 492, 520, 530, 569, 590b, 592, 606, 607, 638, W5, B4, B17. Also Tralbaut page 177.
  2. ^ See letters 574, 576, 592, 607, 620, and the Saint Rémy asylum register
  3. ^ See letters 574, 602a, 613, 640, W4
  4. ^ See letters 172, 173, 200, 206, 215, 216, 302, 469, 576 and R10
  5. ^ "I have not been able to sleep for several nights, and have been feverish and nervous."Letter 200 from The Hague, circa 23 May 1882. (Hulsker September 1958 assigns it the range 16 to 26 May) and "For three weeks I have been suffering from insomnia and low fever, and passing water was painful." — Letter 206 from The Hague, 8 or 9 June 1882
  6. ^ See letters 489, 628.
  7. ^ See Letter 506
  8. ^ See Letter B14
  9. ^ See letters 588, 602a, 605
  10. ^ See letters 507, 579, 585, 595.
  11. ^ Letter T23
  12. ^ Letter T24
  13. ^ Van Gogh wrote from Arles that the townspeople regarded him "a madman or an epileptic" — letter 589
  14. ^ "Most epileptics bite their tongue and injure themselves. Rey told me that he had seen a case where someone had mutilated his own ear, just as I did, and I think I heard a doctor from here, who came to see me with the director, say that he too had seen it before." — Vincent to Theo, letter 592
  15. ^ "I have every reason to believe that the attack which he has had is the result of a state of epilepsy" — letter from Dr. T. Peyron to Theo van Gogh
  16. ^ Doiteau, V. and Leroy, E. La Folie de Vincent van Gogh, Paris, Éditions Æsculape, 1928.
  17. ^ for example, Vinchon, J. 'Diagnostic de la "folie" de van Gogh,' in Historie de la Médecine Communications présentées à Paris â la Société Francaise d'Histoire de la Médecine en 1960 1960, pages 23 - 24, and Godlewski, G. 'Vincent van Gogh, prince des maudits' in Diamant Actualités Médicales, 1982, Volume 29, 12-16.
  18. ^ a b Arnold, page 172
  19. ^ Perry, I. 'Vincent van Gogh's illness: a case record' in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 1947, Volume 21, pages 146-172.
  20. ^ 'My brain is still feeling tired and dried up' in letter 558b
  21. ^ Hemphill, R.E. 'The illness of Vincent van Gogh', in The Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1961, Volume 54, pages 1083-1088.
  22. ^ Grey, R. Vincent van Gogh, Valori Plastici, Rome, 1924.
  23. ^ letter B15 to Emile Bernard, c. 18 August 1888
  24. ^ letter 512 c. 19 July 1888
  25. ^ Beer, J. 'Van Gogh: diagnosis of the tragedy', in Art News Annual, 1950, Volume 19, special number, pages 82-90.
  26. ^ Arnold, page 181
  27. ^ Yasuda, K. 'Was van Gogh suffering from Ménière's disease?' Otologia Fukuoka, (1979) 25: 1427 - 1439.
  28. ^ I. K. Arenberg, L. F. Countryman, L. H. Bernstein and G. E. Shambaugh Jr, 'Van Gogh had Meniere's disease and not epilepsy', Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 264 No. 4, July 25, 1990
  29. ^ a b Arnold, page 185
  30. ^ Arnold, page 191
  31. ^ Loftus, L.S., Arnold, W.N. 1991. Vincent van Gogh's illness: acute intermittent porphyria. British Medical Journal 303: 1589-1591.
  32. ^ Arnold, pages 139-164
  33. ^ Erickson, Kathleen Powers. At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent van Gogh, 1998, ISBN 0-8028-4978-4, pages 120 - 123

Coordinates Administration Country France Region Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur Department Bouches-du-Rhône (Subprefecture) Arrondissement Arles Canton Chief town of 2 cantons: Arles-Est and Arles-Ouest Intercommunality Agglomeration community of Arles-Crau-Camargue-Montagnette Mayor Hervé Schiavetti  (PS) (2001-2008) Statistics Altitude 0 m–57 m... Émile Bernard (1868-April 16, 1941) was a French painter who worked with such artists as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne. ...

External links

Vincent van Gogh
General: The Artist | Chronology | Medical condition | Posthumous fame | Post-Impressionism | Theo van Gogh | Paul Gachet | Paul Gauguin | Van Gogh Museum | Cultural depictions

Groups and series of works: The Décoration for the Yellow House | The Roulin Family | Display at Les XX, 1890 | Auvers size 30 canvases | Auvers Double-squares and Squares
Paintings: List of works | Self-Portraits | Sunflowers | The Potato Eaters | Bedroom in Arles | The Red Vineyard | The Night Café | The Yellow House | The Starry Night | Irises | The Church at Auvers | Wheat Field with Crows | Cafe Terrace at Night | Portrait of Dr. Gachet | Thatched Cottages by a Hill
Vincent Willem van Gogh (Dutch pronunciation: ) (March 30, 1853 – July 29, 1890 ) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1879x1500, 761 KB) Description: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh painted 1889. ... Vincent Willem van Gogh (Dutch pronunciation: ) (March 30, 1853 – July 29, 1890 ) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist. ... Van Gogh: Self Portrait (1889) This is a chronology of the artist Vincent van Gogh. ... The Painter of Sunflowers (Le Peintre de Tournesols): Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, by Paul Gauguin, painted in Arles, December 1888 Main article: Vincent van Gogh For a timeline, see Vincent van Gogh chronology The fame of Vincent van Gogh began to spread during the last years of his life... Self-Portrait with sister, by Victor Borisov-Musatov 1898 Post-Impressionism is the term coined by the British artist and art critic Roger Fry in 1914, to describe the development of European art since Monet (Impressionism). ... Theo van Gogh Theo van Gogh (May 1, 1857 - January 25, 1891) was the younger brother of the painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and a successful art dealer. ... This article or section contains information that has not been verified and thus might not be reliable. ... Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848 – May 9, 1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist artist. ... The Potato Eaters, one of the highlights in the Van Gogh Museum The Van Gogh Museum is a museum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, featuring the works of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries. ... Vincent van Gogh has — through his work, his letters, and his life — inspired many other artists in various media. ... The Décoration for the Yellow House was the main project Vincent van Gogh focussed in Arles, from August 1888 till his breakdown the day before Christmas. ... Main article: Vincent van Gogh The Roulin Family is group of portraits Vincent van Gogh executed in Arles in 1888 and 1889. ... Vincent van Goghs display at Les XX, 1890, in Brussels is an important testament to the recognition he received amongst avant-garde peers during his own lifetime. ... In May 1890, on his arrival in Auvers-sur-Oise, Vincent van Gogh continued his work by mainly conceiving size 30 paintings, in the end more than a dozen. ... Double-squares and Squares are terms which point to the uncommon sizes of canvas Vincent van Gogh used exclusively during the final weeks of his life in Auvers, in June and July 1890. ... This is a list of some of the notable works of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). ... Self-Portraits by Vincent van Gogh belong, together with his Sunflowers, to his most admired paintings. ... Sunflowers or Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (August 1888) is one of two sunflower paintings with twelve sunflowers, the others having fifteen. ... The Potato Eaters (Aardappeleters in Dutch) is a painting by the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh that he painted in April 1885 while in Nuenen, Netherlands. ... Bedroom in Arles (French: La Chambre à Arles; Dutch: Slaapkamer te Arles) is a painting by 19th-century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. ... The Red Vineyard was the only painting Vincent van Gogh sold during his lifetime. ... Main article: Vincent van Gogh The Night Café (original French title: Le Café de nuit) is an oil painting executed in Arles in September 1888, by Vincent van Gogh. ... The Yellow House at No. ... For other uses, see Starry Night (disambiguation). ... Irises is a painting by Vincent van Gogh. ... The Church at Auvers, was painted by Dutch post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh in 1890. ... In 1890 Van Gogh wrote he had made three paintings in Auvers of large fields of wheat under troubled skies and Wheat Field with Crows, an oil on canvas, may have been one. ... Cafe Terrace at Night, also known as The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, is a painting by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh which he rendered in Arles, France in September 1888. ... Portrait of Dr. Gachet is one of the most revered paintings by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, since it fetched a record price, in 1990. ... Thatched Cottages by a Hill is a painting by Vincent van Gogh Categories: ...



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