Questions about the museum

We receive a variety of questions, by post, e-mail and telephone, about the museum, the opening hours, the collection, the exhibitions and more. The most frequently asked questions are answered below. If you have a different question, you can contact info@vangoghmuseum.nl.


Questions about Van Gogh

The extraordinary paintings and dramatic life story of the artist Vincent van Gogh raise many questions. How many paintings did he produce? Why did he cut off his ear? And what illness did he have, exactly? Below you will find answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions. More will soon be added.

  • I'm looking for information on Van Gogh (or another 19th-century artist), where should I start?

    This website offers lots of information on Van Gogh and other 19th-century artists. Just visit the section Permanent collection or Van Gogh's life in periods.
    For more in-depth research you can also visit the museum's library and documentation center, open Monday to Friday from 10.00 to 12.30, and from 13.30 to 17.00.
    Many other Dutch museums can also provide information on 19th-century art.

  • What disease did Van Gogh really suffer from, and why did he cut off a piece of his ear?

    There has been much speculation about Van Gogh's illness. In his own time, doctors believed he had a form of epilepsy. However, he also seems to have suffered from consciousness disorders; he was depressed and suicidal, and even showed symptoms of psychosis. There were clearly defined bad periods his 'attacks', which varied from a few days to several weeks but there were also times when he was able to concentrate fully and calmly on his work.
    None of these symptoms can be blamed purely on epilepsy. In a report published in 1990, neurologist Piet Voskuil suggested that Van Gogh probably suffered from a 'biological-psychiatric functional disorder', whereby both cognitive factors such as stress (due to loneliness and undervaluation) and an hereditary disposition also played a role. His alcohol consumption also contributed to his troubles: thujone, found in the poisonous but then-popular drink absinthe, has been shown to have an influence on the brain's epileptic activity. And such activity as research has demonstrated can often lead to psychiatric dysfunction. In short, Van Gogh had a complex of syndromes, whereby it remains difficult to clarify cause and effect.

    The ear incident

    At the moment Van Gogh cut off a piece of his left ear, he was experiencing one of his ?bad? periods: he was unable to sleep and suffered from hallucinations. His self-mutilation has often been described as an act of rage or desperation brought on by Gauguin's threatened departure. The most likely cause, however, was undoubtedly an approaching bout of illness. Few facts are known about the incident itself: only a brief mention in the local newspaper and Gauguin's own, much later and rather biased description have survived. Van Gogh himself makes little mention of it in his letters. He could remember almost nothing of what had happened, he claimed, and, perhaps as a way of reassuring them, reported the incident to his family as ?simply an artist's fit? (letter to Theo, 7 January 1889). He also wrote that he very much regretted having caused Gauguin so much trouble, albeit unwittingly. (For more on the events of December 1888, see www.vangoghgauguin.com.)

  • Is there a book on Van Gogh's letters, and are they still being researched today?

    In cooperation with the Constantijn Huygens Institute in The Hague the Van Gogh Museum released a new, scholarly edition of the letters, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker. They have studied all the letters in detail and provided them with extensive annotations. The research for this new (English-language) edition is completed; the publication itself is released in the autumn  of 2009.
    More information on the six-volume edition Vincent van Gogh - The Letters.

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