New book describes harrowing period in which he produced most beloved works
Details of the most harrowing period in the life of Vincent van Gogh, including the names of the men who shared his year of confinement in an asylum in the south of France, and his mental collapses when he tried to poison himself with his own paints, have been revealed.
It was a period of anguish but extraordinary creativity for Van Gogh, in which he produced some of his most dazzling and beloved works, now in museum collections across the world all based on brief outings, the views through the barred window of his room and many days spent painting in the asylum gardens.
The author and journalist Martin Bailey, an expert on Van Goghs life, has traced the admissions register and other records from Saint-Paul de Mausole, a small asylum on the outskirts of Saint-Rmy-de-Provence, for the period when Van Gogh was admitted as a private patient, a stay paid for by his brother Theo.
The register shows Vincent van Gogh, 36, from Arles but born in the Netherlands, was admitted on 8 May 1889. Through the register, Bailey traced the 18 male patients including an elderly priest, Jean Revello, and Henri Enrico, who was described as constantly smashing up furniture and crockery. Bailey was able to match many of the names with death certificates and other evidence, and details of medical conditions and minimal treatment in a later book by the asylum director.
Revello, admitted two years before Van Gogh, aged 20, would spend the next half century in the asylum and die there in 1932. Van Gogh described fellow patients, whom he called my companions in misfortune, slumped into silent resignation, with no treatment and nothing to fill their days except the next stodgy meal, eaten with a spoon because of the risk from knives and forks. Some, however, were very troubled. In one letter, he described the long nights: One continually hears shouts and terrible howls as of animals in a menagerie.