XIV. What were the consequences of Gauguin's tactics for Van Gogh?


Gauguin, by his self-serving invention of Van Gogh's self-mutilation, had put out the rumour of his "madness" which spread like wildfire. This had serious consequences for Van Gogh, apart from his emotional and physical wounds: After a petition of his neighbours in Arles, Vincent, now regarded as insane and constituting a potential public danger, was locked up at the hospital for three weeks in March 1889, and his Yellow House was officially closed. All this meant the abrupt end of his optimistic outlook of living together with Gauguin, of a future community of painters. It meant the end of his plans and hopes for a "Studio of the South" for which he had worked so long and with such enthusiasm, sacrificing all his energy and a lot of Theo's money.

While complaining about the bigoted neighbours who had caused his internment at the hospital, he clearly expressed he had not cut off his ear himself:
"but in any case, if in fact I had wounded myself, I had not done anything of the kind to those people."43
This statement has been interpreted as an admission of his self-harm.
It expresses just the opposite: "if in fact I had wounded myself" means clearly "but in fact I did not".

Van Gogh tried to bear this blow according to his old motto "to be cheerful in all suffering". He was well aware of the fact that due to Gauguin's story he was now stigmatised as being "insane" and he reflected on his new role which he tried to play as well as possible. Level-headed and resignedly he wrote to his brother:
"I'm thinking of squarely accepting my profession as a madman just like Degas took on the form of a notary. But there it is, I don't feel I quite have the strength needed for such a role."44 
These phrases show that he was anything but insane, that had analysed his situation accurately and clear-sightedly, and that he was willing to take up the role imposed on him by Gauguin, and to play the "madman" stoically, as far as he could. A real tragedy.

Vincent would never recover entirely from the blow of Gauguin's betrayal, which paved the way for the aggravation of his disease in 1889-90, for his voluntary admission to the asylum of St. Rémy in May 1889, and for his latent depression. All that stayed with him until his death in July 1890.


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43. Vincent to Theo Van Gogh, 19 March 1889; Letters nr. 750 (our translation), Original: «mais que dans tous les cas, si en effet je m'étais fait une blessure à moi-même, je n'en avais aucunement fait à ces gens-là».

44. Vincent to Theo van Gogh, 24 March 1889, Letters 2009, Nr. 752.