A Tormented Mind: Vincent van Gogh's Mental Illness Reflected in His Self-Portraits

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A Tormented Mind: Vincent van Gogh's Mental Illness Reflected in His Self-Portraits

On a beautiful summer day in July 1890 Vincent van Gogh, now

recognized as one of the world's most gifted painters, went down into the

open country of Auvers, France and shot himself in the heart with a revolver

(Martini 3). The man who is now known throughout the world for his

revolutionary artistic talent died in his brother Theo's arms, little known or

appreciated in his own time (Barnes 17). Van Gogh's suicide marked the

end of a life-long struggle with mental illness and depression which affected

every aspect of his personal and social life. His unpredictable, sometimes

even violent mental and emotional states led to a life of loneliness and

isolation, preventing van Gogh from achieving much recognition or success

in his own lifetime.

Much of van Gogh's inner pain is reflected in his

paintings -- especially in his own self-portraits. In fact, the fluctuations in

van Gogh's mental state and mood due to his mental illness directly

influenced his choice of color schemes and facial expressions in his self-

portraits. His Self-Portrait painted in 1887 reflects van Gogh's mental

excitement and optimistic energy during this very productive period of his

life. In contrast, Van Gogh's 1889 Self-Portrait was painted during his

darkest period of illness and misery and these qualities are expressed

through van Gogh's technique. His Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889-

90) is a testament to the physical effects of van Gogh's illness as well as how

close he was to finally giving up and ending his life by his own hand, while

his Self-Portrait in Front of the Easel...