Vincent’s dream was to have his own artists’ community in his Yellow House in Arles. When his painter friend Paul Gauguin arrived in October 1888, this dream seemed to come true. At first, the artists worked happily side by side, but soon the situation deteriorated.
Discussions about art became more frequent, and sometimes heated. Vincent found it important to work from reality. Gauguin painted from memory, from his imagination.
Vincent had been in hospital for less than a day when he was visited by his brother Theo. The latter had left Paris in a hurry and travelled by train to be with his brother. Vincent’s friends
At the hospital, Vincent was treated by assistant physician Dr Félix Rey. Despite Dr Rey’s
The hospital’s main physician sent a certificate and letter to the mayor, stating that ‘Mr Vincent is suffering from insanity’. He recommended that Vincent be committed to a psychiatric hospital, ‘for the care that this unfortunate person is receiving at our institution is not sufficient to bring him to reason’.
Fortunately, there was no need to commit Vincent to a psychiatric hospital then. He slowly recovered and was allowed to go home after two weeks. There, he tried to pick up the pieces and began painting again. He wrote to Theo, ‘…I didn’t know that one could break one’s brain and that afterwards that got better too.’
Ill in Arles
Unfortunately, Vincent’s situation soon deteriorated again. More crises and hospitalisations followed. During the attacks, Vincent was utterly confused and had no idea what he was saying or doing. This affected not only him, but also the people around him.
His friends and family were worried, his neighbours had even become afraid of him. They started a petition to ensure that Vincent was locked up in a psychiatric hospital. In the petition, they declared he was 'not of sound mind, and is the subject of fear of all the residents of the neighbourhood'.
Vincent was very sad about this: ‘At least I have not harmed anyone and I am not dangerous to anyone,’ he told the Reverend Fréderic Salles.
Vincent recovered, eventually, making a compulsory admission unnecessary. But he knew things couldn’t go on like this. Vincent wanted to stay in Arles, but no longer dared to live on his own.
In May 1889, he voluntarily had himself admitted to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy.
A Year in the Psychiatric Institution
Accompanied by the Reverend Fréderic Salles, Vincent arrived at the psychiatric hospital on 8 May 1889. He would eventually spend a year there. ‘Mr Vincent was perfectly calm and explained his illness to the director himself.’ Dr Peyron entered Vincent’s information and his
Painting as a Remedy
Initially, the rhythm and structure of life at the psychiatric hospital calmed Vincent down. He used another cell as his studio, and when he felt well enough, he was allowed to work outside the hospital.
Vincent’s studio overlooked the garden of the institution. He often worked there, producing the most beautiful drawings and paintings. Sometimes, he painted the garden as a whole, sometimes he created close-ups of flowers, plants, and all kinds of small creatures he found there.
Painting was the best remedy for his psychiatric disorder, but he couldn’t work during attacks and indeed wasn’t allowed to. Doing nothing was unbearable for Vincent.
A Candid Letter
In one of his letters to his brother Theo written at the institution, Vincent was candid about his psychiatric disorder and how he looked back on his difficult time in Arles:
During the first few months, Vincent did not suffer any new crises, increasing his hopes for recovery. But in July, things went badly wrong again. He was painting a quarry when he felt a new attack coming on. More crises followed.
The return of his condition made Vincent fearful and insecure. His hopes for a full recovery were dashed. ‘For many days I’ve been absolutely distraught, and it’s to be presumed that these crises will recur in the future, it is ABOMINABLE.’
Longing to Paint
The months that followed were marked by alternating periods of crises, recovery and health. Vincent had ‘little or no hope’ of ever getting better, but still longed to paint.
Thus, whenever he felt well enough, he continued to work. One of the works he painted during this period is this Pietà after a print of a painting by Delacroix. Perhaps Vincent identified himself with the recently deceased Christ? ‘… [I]n the very suffering religious thoughts sometimes console me a great deal,’ he wrote to Theo.
Time to Leave
Vincent began to feel increasingly trapped at the psychiatric hospital and wanted to leave as soon as possible.
After a year, in May 1890, he left for Auvers in northern France. There, he was closer to Theo, who lived in Paris. Dr Gachet from Auvers was asked to take care of him.