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Home  >  Medical Research Archives  >  Issue 149  > Vincent: Exuberance and Despair
Published in the Medical Research Archives
Oct 2023 Issue

Vincent: Exuberance and Despair

Published on Oct 26, 2023




Dedicated to Meerten ter Borg.

During Vincent van Gogh’s two months in Auvers he painted 74 masterpieces and then he shot himself. In this article, I investigate the possible connection between his ecstatic creativity and his tragic end. For this, I turn to Aristotle, who investigated the connection between warm melancholy and eminent creativity. In modern terms, it is the increased neurotransmission during a hypomanic episode that allows the magnifying of existing talent. This ‘bipolar melancholy’ can foster creativity but also lead to abrupt suicide. Attempts to find, in his letters and paintings, omens foretelling this tragedy fall short. He was exuberantly celebrating nature in his paintings creative until the last canvas. Then came a sudden slowing down of neurotransmission. His suicide was an escape from the looming depression he had experienced in Arles before deep depression made such an action impossible. The tragic fate of Vincent’s brother Theo, who succumbed to the other extreme, mania, suggests a genetic basis for this ‘ bipolar melancholy’. It was for Dr Gachet, expert in Melancholy, that Vincent moved to Auvers. He offered a broad and compassionate medical therapy, not excluding medication. Gachet’s understanding of the link between melancholy and genius was known to the van Gogh brothers. At the funeral Dr Gachet praised Vincent’s great achievements.


Author info

Marlies Borg

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