365 Days of Art: May 4 – Vincent Writes About His Mental Illness, Asks to Leave Asylum

Vincent van Gogh, Pine Trees and Dandelions, 1890

May 4, 1890

Vincent van Gogh writes to his brother Theo about his desire to leave the asylum at St. Remy:

The surroundings here are beginning to weigh me down more than I can say – heavens above, I’ve been patient for more than a year – I need some air, I feel overwhelmed by boredom and grief.

Also the work is pressing, and I should be wasting my time here. Why then, I ask you, are you so afraid of accidents? That’s not what should be frightening you. Heavens above, every day since I’ve been here I’ve watched people falling down, or going out of their minds – what is more important is to try and take misfortune into account…

This has given me wrinkles which will not be smoothed out in a hurry. Now that things are beginning to weigh me down too heavily here, I think it only fair that they should be brought to an end.

So please ask M. Peyron to allow me to leave, let’s say by the 15th at the latest. If I wait, I shall be letting the favourable period of calm between two attacks go by, and by leaving now, I should have the time I need to make the acquaintance of the other doctor. Then if the illness does come back in a little while, it would not be unexpected, and depending upon how serious it is, we could see if I can continue to be at liberty, or if I must settle down in a lunatic asylum for good. In the latter case – as I told you in my last letter, I would go into a home where the patients work in the fields & the workshop. I’m sure I’d find even more subjects to paint there than here.

So remember that the journey costs a lot, that it is pointless [to provide an escort], and that I have every right to change homes if I wish. I am not demanding my complete liberty.

I have tried to be patient up till now, I haven’t done anybody any harm, is it fair to have me accompanied like some dangerous animal? No, thank you, I protest. If I should have an attack, they know what to do at every station, and I should let them get on with it.

But I’m sure that my nerve will not desert me. I am so distressed at leaving like this that the distress will be stronger than the madness. So I’m sure I shall have what nerve it takes.

He also includes a description of the above painting:

Here is a hasty sketch of it – a pine trunk, pink and purple, and then the grass with some white flowers and dandelions, a little rose bush and some other tree trunks in the background right at the top of the canvas.