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Author sheds light on van Gogh’s illness

“Borderline personality disorder is a relatively new diagnosis, which was officially described for the first time in 1980,” she continues a little later. “It was first suggested as a possible cause of van Gogh’s condition in the late 1990s.”

Author sheds light on van Gogh’s illness
Reviewed by Aaron W. Hughey

“On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness” by Nienke Bakker, Louis van Tilborgh and Laura Prins. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. 176 pages, $30.

“The dramatic moment when Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear and his subsequent suicide are among the best-known events in his life and, for many, the most fascinating,” Nienke Bakker explains in “Van Gogh’s Illness: The Witnesses Recall,” her contribution to “On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness,” the new book she co-wrote with Louis van Tilborgh and Laura Prins. “His self-harm marked the beginning of a series of mental breakdowns, which have prompted widely diverging interpretations and medical diagnoses.”

Like many readers, I have known about the troubled genius van Gogh since early childhood. His story, like many who have come to occupy a prominent place in the cultural lexicon, has an enduring quality that is simultaneously difficult to explain and undeniably self-evident. His portfolio includes more than 2,100 works of art, including about 860 oil paintings – most of which were completed in a little more than 10 years. He is so well-known today it is hard to believe he actually sold only one painting during a life spent struggling with personal demons in abject poverty, supported primarily by his younger brother Theo. He only achieved worldwide acclaim after he committed suicide at age 37. To this day, he remains the embodiment of “misunderstood genius.”

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