The Curious Case of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh is one among many famous personalities in history who have rightly or wrongly been credited with having suffered from epilepsy.
Vincent van Gogh is one among many famous personalities in history who have rightly or wrongly been credited with having suffered from epilepsy.

Vincent van Gogh is one among many famous personalities in history who have rightly or wrongly been credited with having suffered from epilepsy. It seems fairly clear that Vincent van Gogh did suffer from symptoms of brain and mind; seizures, hallucinations, mood swings and explosive impulsive behavior that have been variously attributed to bipolar disorder, Meniere’s disease and interestingly, personality features linked with epilepsy.

Van Gogh was not just a productive painter (over 2000 works in a relatively short lifetime); he was a very prolific letter writer. Indeed, in one very productive period in Arles (1888-1889) he is believed to have produced 200 paintings and 200 watercolors, a painting every 36 hours; he also managed to write to his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, and to fellow impressionists, 200 letters filling 1700 pages, the shortest six pages long.

van Gogh was probably hypergraphic, both in letter and painting, the latter having been described as a manifestation of hypergraphia by Michael Trimble, the eminent London-based Behavioral Neurologist. van Gogh had a history of seizures, probably even experiencing one while painting the portrait “Over the Ravine” revealed in the rough brush strokes and resulting in a torn canvas.

He also probably demonstrated other traits of the Geschwind Syndrome: intense mood swings, with irritability and anger; and a spectrum of sexual behavior (hyposexuality, hypersexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality). The last (among others) was with Paul Gauguin, in an intense argument with whom he experienced hallucinations (a voice that asked him to kill).

Provoked to be aggressive, he then experienced a biblical injunction “And if thine offend thee, pluck it out” and turned the razor, famously, on to his own ear (self portrait with a bandaged ear).

Indeed, his relationship with Gauguin was typically intense. van Gogh was observed by Gauguin to experience difficulty in terminating arguments and discussions (emotional stickiness). Another intense argument is thought to have resulted in van Gogh’s suicide: he threatened his physician with a pistol, was rebuffed, left the office, and shot himself in the chest.

He died two days later. It is noteworthy that van Gogh was the son of a preacher and started his life as one (probable hyper-religiosity). Indeed, it has been proposed by the neurologist and art scholar Prof. Khoshbin that van Gogh had all the five core traits of Geschwind Syndrome ( http://goo.gl/VyjxzK ). His extraordinary creativity and inspired genius makes his case all the more curious, indeed!

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Oliver The Brainy Owl

Oliver The Brainy Owl

Oliver, whose musings speak for & to us is our Mascot. Inspired by his namesake the erudite neurologist & writer Late Professor Oliver Sacks, he shares periodically, pearls of wisdom about the brain and mind. Hailing from a long lineage that has been associated with health over millennia, Oliver traces his ancestry to Athena & Minerva the Greek & Roman goddesses of health, philosophy & magic. Not to be mistaken for his comic counterpart...