[imagesource: Art Media / Print Collector / Getty Images]
First off, and at the risk of sounding like that person that no one wants at their dinner party, it’s not pronounced ‘Van Go’, which sounds more like a command than a surname.
The pronunciation of the ‘Gogh’ in Van Gogh is phonetically the same as the Scottish word ‘loch’. You can take it a step further by pronouncing it ‘fun KHOKH’, but if Dutch isn’t your first language the former will do.
That’s a bugbear of mine, so I’m glad we got it out of the way.
Moving on to more interesting things.
One of the most widely known facts about Vincent Van Gogh, peddled even by those who know little about art, is that he cut his own ear off in a fit of insanity.
The circumstances leading up to that insanity have remained largely unknown, although rumours did the rounds that it had something to do with his friend Paul Gauguin’s decision to abandon their planned artist colony in Arles, or because he was distraught after learning of his brother’s engagement.
Neither of these things is true, according to a new study that claims to have uncovered the reasons for his self-mutilation, says Artnet News.
Instead, the evidence suggests that he was going through alcohol withdrawal.
“Those who consume large amounts of alcohol… run the risk of brain function impairment,” explains the study, published by a team led by University Medical Center Groningen psychiatrist Willem A. Nolen in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders.
“Moreover, abrupt stopping with excessive alcohol consumption can lead to withdrawal phenomena, including a delirium.”
Van Gogh’s letters provide evidence as to his alcohol consumption, and his failed efforts to curb it, which suggests alcoholic tendencies.
“The only thing that comforts and distracts—in my case—as in others, is to stun oneself by taking a stiff drink,” he wrote while living in Arles. “If the storm within roars too loudly, I drink a glass too many to stun myself.”
Not everybody is on board with the new theory, however.
A representative of the Van Gogh Museum wrote Artnet News an email contesting the findings.
“The medical diagnosis of historical figures is full of pitfalls, and our Van Gogh experts are still hesitant when it comes to drawing firm conclusions.”
The new study is “repeating and combining theses that in themselves are not entirely new,” and were addressed by the museum’s 2016 show, they noted.
The study does take that into account, stating that although the letters contain a lot of information, they were not written to his doctors, but to friends and family, to reassure them.
They also concede that his poor mental health likely contributed to the psychotic episode.
Considering widespread and ongoing debate and the multiple papers and studies that have looked into why Van Gogh behaved the way that he did, I doubt this research will be the last word on the topic.
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