IMMpress V5I2 cover for web
On May 8, 1889, Vincent Van Gogh admitted himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in southern France following a particularly devastating breakdown where he mutilated part of his own ear. During his stay, he occupied two separate cells with barred windows, one of which was turned into an art studio where he produced some of his most renowned and prolific works. “The Starry Night” (1889), one of his greatest masterpieces, depicts the view from Van Gogh’s bedroom window at the asylum, through the iron bars and facing east towards the Alpilles mountains. The iconic expressionistic swirls depict both a sense of calm in the landscape as well as a turbulence that so often took over the artist’s life. Van Gogh died on July 27, 1890 at the age of 37 by a self-inflicted bullet wound to the chest. Van Gogh had a known family history of mental illness, and many modern-day analysts attribute his erratic and often deranged behaviour to bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, compounded by excessive drinking, and lead poisoning from his paints. He once wrote about his depressive episodes as “indescribable anguish […] when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant.”

Van Gogh was a tragic figure who considered himself a failed painter and regularly faced ostracism from the public. Prior to becoming institutionalized, his house was shut down by the police after 30 townspeople petitioned to drive him out, calling him “le fou roux” (the red-headed madman). This is yet another reminder of how individuals suffering from mental health challenges have been misunderstood and treated with apprehension throughout history. As we try to break down the stigma and open a discussion on mental health in this issue of IMMpress, I want to implore our readers to never let go of what you love, no matter how tough things may be. To quote le fou roux who inspired this cover:

It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is within me a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest huts, in the dirtiest corner, I see drawings and pictures. And with irresistible force my mind is drawn towards these things. Believe me that sometimes I laugh heartily because people suspect me of all kinds of malignity and absurdity, of which not a hair of my head is guilty — I, who am really no one but a friend of nature, of study, of work, and especially of people.”

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Angela Zhou

Angela is a PhD student at the University of Toronto currently studying immune responses to influenza infection. When not in the lab, she enjoys painting, wandering aimlessly, and spending quality time with good friends.

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