10 June 2023

Vincent van Gogh: art genius, mental health tragic.

The Museum Square in Amsterdam is the key place in the Dutch capital regard­ing art and culture, higlighting the Rijks­museum and Stedelijk Museum, the Concert­ge­bouw and the Van Gogh Museum.

van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Arch Daily

Museum Square, Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum (L) and the Rijksmuseum (R), 

Three storeys of art on display

De­d­icated to the life and works of Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) and his cont­em­poraries, this is one of the most famous museums in Europe. Housed across 2 adjoining buildings, most of the 200 paintings and 400 drawings by the legendary artist are in the site designed by Dut­ch arch­itect Gerrit Rietveld (d1964), part of the modern De Stijl art move­ment. This first section of the museum was opened in 1973.

In 1999 the museum opened the new Exhibition Wing, designed by Japan­ese archit­ect Kur­ok­awa Kisho. Connected by an entr­ance hall, and used for major temporary exhibitions, this wing had an open de­sign that used geomet­r­ical forms and allowed natural light into the exhibition space. Kurokawa buried most of his building, connecting it with the old museum through an underground passage, to minimise its visual im­pact on the environment. But note the peculiar curved roof that continued to attract attention.

The core of the collection came from Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s  very patient young­er brother. It remained in the family until 1962, when with the Dutch government help, the artist’s nephew Vincent van Gogh (1890–1978), donated the collection to the Vincent van Gogh Found­at­ion. Then nephew Vincent, founder of Van Gogh Museum gave the collect­ion to the museum on a permanent loan.

In 2014, construction began on a new entrance hall in Museum Square. The new wing has a basement below and two floors above, built in the open space adjacent to the main museum building. The transpar­ent en­tr­ance hall was built to allow its very light appearance. The curv­ed glass panels collab­orated with the vertical glass fins, which in turn worked together with the building’s steel structure. Inside, the glass staircase is supported by glass arches. The new entrance build­ing is the largest glass structure in the nation.

The museum has since added works acqu­ired via purchase and donat­ion. It fea­tured a research library that was opened to the pu­blic, and an aud­it­or­ium for public lectures and films about van Gogh. The 2nd floor featured temporary exhibitions and the top floor showcased Imp­res­sionist and Postimpressionist works by van Gogh’s cont­emp­­or­aries: works by C19th Fr­en­ch scul­ptor, Auguste Rodin, and pain­t­ings by Paul Gaug­uin, Éd­ouard Manet, Claude Mo­net, Émile Bern­ard, Mary Cassatt and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The biggest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world, it is home to both the iconic Self-portrait (1888) and Sunflowers (1889), as well as The Painter of Sunflowers (1888), a Paul Gauguin portrait of Van Gogh that combines the two works.

Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, 1887
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

In the troubled genius’ expressive paintings and drawings, learn about Van Gogh’s personal, often difficult history - single, lonely, never sold a single painting, relied on his brother for money. The exhibit­ions include c700 of the artist’s letters, giving a first-hand look in­to his state of mind, and his brother's.

Vincent van Gogh then lived in the French village of Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris. He was feeling opt­im­ist­ic and made some of his famous master­pieces, including Wheatfield with Crows, Doc­tor Paul Gachet and The Church of Auvers-sur-Oise. He was highly productive, often creat­ing more than a painting a day, while experimenting with new approaches to colour, brushwork, formats and subjects. This cruc­ial final phase in van Gogh’s career is in the Van Gogh in Auv­ers: His Final Months exhibition. The English-French-Dutch catalogue incl­ud­es the 5 paintings that Van Gogh created in Auvers in his fin­al mon­ths. His­t­orical photo­graphs and maps show the pl­ac­es where he worked and found his inspiration, finding things of beaut­y to paint around the town.

But inspiring as his new surroundings were, his loneliness and dep­ression mounted. Dr Paul Gachet was a doctor with whom van Gogh lived, after he was released after a year in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence’s mental asylum. Gachet cared for Van Gogh till the end, showing how Van Gogh first experim­ented with etching, while revealing his special connection with Dr Gachet. Then the artist took his own life in July 1890. 

Portrait of Dr. Gachet,
by van Gogh, 1890. Wiki
auction at Christie's NY 1990, for US$82.5 million 

Thankfully he left behind a fine body of work, so this exhibition is a great opportunity to see 50+ paintings and 30 draw­ings by van Gogh that have never before been shown together. It feat­ures spec­ial loans from private collections and museums around the world, and an audio guide is available in 11 languages. But remember to book early because 1.5 million visitors arrive here each year!

In a 3-part video series called Van Gogh Ex­perts Explain: His Final Months, cur­ators and resear­chers talk about the multitude of works Van Gogh produced, what inspired him and how he felt then.


roentare said...

The museum looks so ultra-modern. The famous self-portrait with him holding a digitalis plant is a material I often discuss in lectures and tutorials with my students.

Van Gogh Museum said...

For 50 years and counting, the Van Gogh Museum has been inspiring people with the artworks of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries. In 2023, we celebrate our anniversary and during this special year, we will be busy with exhibitions that bring you closer to Van Gogh as an artist and a person.

12 May - 3 September 2023: see the masterpieces that Vincent painted in the final months of his life in Van Gogh in Auvers;
13 October 2023 - 14 January 2024: gaze across the water in the paintings that Van Gogh, Seurat, Signac, Bernard and Angrand made on banks of the Seine in Van Gogh along the Seine.

jabblog said...

His was an extraordinarily productive life. It was a pity his demons possessed him and drove him to suicide at such a young age.

Hels said...


well spotted! I would not have known digitalis or foxglove plants if van Gogh told me about them himself. But it makes sense. Dr Gachet was a homeopathic doctor, and may have been trying different medicines to treat his unstable artist patient.

Hels said...

van Gogh Museum

thank you for the exhibition titles and dates. I will add them into the blog and hope that at least my European blogging colleagues will be able see the van Gogh exhibitions. For myself, I can definitely order a copy of the catalogue.

International Journal of Bipolar Disorders said...


This paper might help us understand something of the confusing analysis of van Gogh's mental health.

Since young adulthood, van Gogh likely developed a bipolar mood disorder in combination with a borderline personality disorder as underlying vulnerability. This likely worsened through an alcohol use disorder combined with malnutrition, which then led, in combination with rising psychosocial tensions, to a mental health crisis. Thereafter he likely developed two deliriums probably related to alcohol withdrawal, followed by a worsening with severe depressive episodes, with psychotic features, from which he did not fully recover, finally leading to his suicide. As additional comorbidity, temporal lobe epilepsy cannot be excluded.

International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, 2020

Joe said...

I felt sorriest for younger brother Theo who had to totally support Vincent all his adult life. Despite having his own family to look after and his own health concerns, Theo had to worry about Vincent's food, housing, art colleagues and regular correspondence.
Both brothers lived very short lives. Vincent died in 1890 and Theo died 6 months later.

DUTA said...

It's good to knpw that his brother and nephew made sure his works were stored and exhibited in the proper place.
In this world where lack of compassion prevails, it's also comforting to know that Dr. Gachet cared for this great painter.

Hels said...


Theo not only started in the art world first.. he actually helped Vincent think of making his art hobby into a proper career and encouraged a move to Paris. When Paris was not a happy place, Theo supported Vincent’s dream of moving south to Arles and starting an artists’ commune. When that failed, Theo stayed by his brother's side, even as the older man died.

Theo was exhausted and ill himself, and died shortly after. What a tragedy :( The only good things that came out of Theo's death was that 1] his widow dedicated herself to collecting all the paintings that her late husband had been storing, to go into a Vincent van Gogh Gallery and 2] she kept the thousands of letters Vincent had written to her late husband over the years. They eventually went into the Gallery Letter Collection.

Hels said...


I am not sure that there was a lack of compassion vis a vis Vincent, including Vincent's wonderful family, and Dr Gachet in the last year, as you noted.

But note this! In May 1888, van Gogh rented a house and set up an art studio in Arles. He invited other painters to join him there but only Paul Gauguin arrived. Sadly van Gogh was impossible to live with, depressed, moody and territorial. Gauguin HAD to leave, warmly encouraging van Gogh to have himself admitted to an asylum as soon as possible.

Rachel Phillips said...

When I went to Amsterdam on a student exhibition prize where five of us were selected to show our work I was given a book of the letters that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo. I think it was part of the prize and I was given it on arrival in Amsterdam. The letters were very touching and it was clear that the two brothers were very close and Theo cared a great deal for Vincent and tried ot help him all he could. During the week long stay I visited all the museums you mention along with many other small galleries, all with our accompanying tutor. It was a trip I will never forget. We also visited Rotterdam and the dock area museums.

Hels said...


what an amazing prize for the five of you - great city to visit, great museums, great book of letters and much loved art works. You are right about never forgetting this exciting and influential trip.

The letters between the two van Gogh brothers were practically daily, important because writing to Theo was almost the only open and emotional human contact Vincent had. Although Theo's letters to Vincent were largely lost, Theo and then his wife carefully protected _every_ letter Vincent ever wrote to them.

My name is Erika. said...

Hi Hels. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists so I really enjoyed this post. One day I hope to make it to this museum to actually see it. And you asked it in your comment if the cold made it more sedate. Actually the temperatures weren't terribly chilly, at least for me coming from a place that has cold winters, but the wind was what made it feel colder. And it's more crowded around Reykjavik than when we travel to the opposite side of the country. It was worth keeping my heavier jackets out longer because the scenery was lovely. I hope you've had a great weekend.

Hels said...


I hope you do get to Amsterdam's gallery. I haven't travelled since Covid started in Feb 2019 and I miss touring my favourite cities terribly.

Two portraits of Joseph Roulin were painted by van Gogh of his close friend, a postie in Arles. We know that van Gogh dreamed of creating an artists' commune there but only one artist would live with van Gogh and that failed. But here is a new thought. The Roulin family were very friendly with the artist and in return, they were the subjects of many of his paintings. See

https://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/search?q=roulin 1888 and
https://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/search?q=roulin 1889

bazza said...

I have never seen a better place to view fine art than the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Although I visited many years ago, the memory is still string!

Hels said...


when I studied 17th century Dutch art at uni, I spent a lot of wonderful time in the Rijksmuseum, studying their collection. But I have never seen Kisho Kurokawa's exhibition wing of the van Gogh Museum :(

I am not normally jealous of Europeans but you can decide on a Thursday night to travel to Amsterdam for a weekend, then travel back home in time for work on Monday. I have to book a flight 12 months in advance, buy travel insurance, check where I want to visit and book a hotel, request time off work in advance etc.

mem said...

One of the things I love about reading your posts is the interesting Rabbit holes I go down . So nice to have ones brains ticked by interesting information. Thank you Helen.
I was wondering about this nephew who so generously gave the family collection to the state and what an amazing person he must be to give up the potential to so much wealth for our pleasurers and education . bet Alan Bond wouldn't have done that !!
Apparently he became an engineer and his grandson was the Theo Van Gogh who was murdered by an Islamic terrorist not so long ago . Vincent Juniors oldest son, another Theo , was killed by the Nazis during the occupation . He was a resistance fighter . What a very fine family they are , Vincent would be amazed and proud I think , given that he never sold a painting in his lifetime.

mem said...

Actually Theo was Vincent juniors older brother not son !!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - they've got an exhibition on here along the coast in Brighton - I know people who've been and raved about it. I saw, when I was in Canada, a film entitled 'Loving Vincent' - that made a huge impression on me ... I wrote about it and bought the DVD of it ... it's a wonderful creative film. My post is 23 March 2018 ... cheers Hilary

Hels said...


Theo van Gogh must have been the most patient, loving brother anywhere. He understood how difficult Vincent was to live with, how financially needy he was and how important Vincent's art would be to the world. Yet Theo did everything possible to look after his brother until Vincent died in 1890. Theo himself died in 1891, when his heartbroken widow took over the responsibility for the art collection.

I couldn't believe that Theo van Gogh, the young art dealer who was killed by a terrorist, was the direct descendant of Theo. How can one family, filled with talent and passion, suffer so terribly?

Hels said...


you have been a source of wonderful information for me. Many many thanks.