As you may or may not know, I am a huge fan of Vincent Van Gogh. His art demonstrates a vision of the world that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Van Gogh was not ignorant like the rest of us. What I mean by that is that he experienced his world on a more heightened level of feeling than the average person could ever imagine. As his paintings show, his vision, experience, and connection to the universe was vibrating, shimmering, and electric in nature.

I also believe the human brain isn’t built to easily perceive and experience the world in such a wide-open manner. It is speculated that Van Gogh suffered from a psychological ailment that may have been bipolar disorder, which his world, and frankly ours even now, has no idea how to face.

I am going to attempt to retell the story of his journey as an artist and his battle with psychological illness through quotes from his letters, obtained through the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery. Original letters and more information on his art and life can be found here:

“I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate.”

“An artist … must have a warm heart for his fellow men.”

“…my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains …”

“…the thoughts I cannot keep from rising within me…”

“The diseases that we … labor under most are melancholy and pessimism.”

“There is no blue without yellow and without orange.”

“It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to…. The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures.”

“We spend our whole lives in unconscious exercise of the art of expressing our thoughts with the help of words.”

“…[the doctor] Rey told me that being very impressionable was enough to account for the attack that I had, and that I was really only anaemic, but that I really must feed myself up…”

“…Now considering that all the house was upset by this occurrence, and all the linen and my clothes soiled…”

“…I have been miserable because just at this moment you have had this expense, which did no one any good…”

“…If … this theory seems too bold …”

“…I am often absent-minded, preoccupied with aiming at the goal…”

“…I have ceased to be able to follow his actions, and I give it up in silence, but with a questioning note all the same…”

“Thank you again for your letter, please do try to realise that it will be really impossible to live thirteen days on the 23.50 francs which I shall have left; if you could send 20 francs next week, I would try to manage.”

“Come to the station if you can, I should be so glad to see you.”

“Since it is still winter, look here, let me go quietly on with my work; if it is that of a madman, well, so much the worse. I can’t help it….the unbearable hallucinations have ceased, and are now getting reduced to a simple nightmare, in consequence of my taking bromide of potassium…”

“I am furiously at work from morning till night, to prove to you (unless my work is another hallucination), to prove to you that indeed and indeed we are following Monticelli’s track, and what’s more, that we have a light before our feet and a lamp upon our path in the powerful work of Brias of Montpellier…”

“…shall go on considering myself an invalid…”

“…feeling more or less embarrassed by each other because of it, we shall be able to feel even more like brothers after…”

“Am I wrong in this?”

“We are nothing but links in a chain.”

“Perhaps someday everyone will have neurosis…”

“And then it struck me at once that the figures would be crushed by the rest, and that there would be too much of a struggle between the figures and the surroundings.”

“it’s been a tremendous battle, but one for which I was filled with great enthusiasm. Even though at times I was afraid it would never come…”

“strange broken colours…”

“…see it as it should be seen…”

“I’ve held the threads of this fabric in my hands all winter long and searched for the definitive pattern”

“I’m sorry it wasn’t ready for today – best wishes once again for your health and peace of mind, believe me.”

“Mine eye, oh weep no more, but hold your tears, My soul, mourn no more, but pray, but pray, my soul.”

“There are hours and days and periods in life when God hides His countenance, as it were; but for those who love God those times, those sad times, are not wholly devoid of God, but as if they were full of prophecies for the future and full of voices from the past…”

“The grey sky above it all was mirrored in the pools…”

“I am happily looking forward to Christmas; two years ago we took a walk in the snow in the evening, do you remember? And saw the moon rise over the Marienhof? I also quite clearly remember the night, that same Christmastide, I drove from Bois-le-Duc to Helvoirt in a little open cart, it was terribly cold and the road was slippery; how beautiful Bois-le-Duc looked, the market square and the streets covered with snow and the dark houses with snow on the roofs. Brabant is ever Brabant, and one’s native country is ever one’s native country, and countries of exile are ever countries of exile. And viewed from the distant road to Bois-le-Duc, how pleasant Helvoirt looked that evening and the lights in the village and the steeple amidst the snow-covered poplars. But it is love that gives it all so much beauty and animation. And do you remember that trip to St. Michiel’s Gestel.”

“Once more my best wishes, lad, I hope you will begin a happy and prosperous year. These are important years that we are living through now and much depends on them. May everything come out all right…”

“That Rijswijk road holds memories for me which are perhaps the most beautiful I have. If we meet again, maybe we shall talk about them once more.”

“I stayed in Paris only three days, and the noise, etc., of Paris had such a bad effect on me…”

“I think that white orchard needs a white frame, cold white and rough.”

“…if you understand so well that to prepare oneself for death is idle … can’t you see that similarly self-sacrifice, living for other people, is a mistake if it involves suicide, for in that case you actually turn your friends into murderers…”

“You would be intrigued by the sight – that long line of black figures, big and small, first in the narrow street where the sun just peeps in, and later in the yard. Then I breakfasted on a piece of dry bread and a glass of beer – that is what Dickens advises for those who are on the point of committing suicide…”

“…rest assured that I never forget you…”