[ART] Famous Painters who Battled Mental Illness

1. VINCENT VAN GOGH – Known for Post-Impressionism – Manic Depression

 Van Gogh, Vincent. Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat. 1886. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.//  Van Gogh. Wheatfield with Crows. 1890. 50.2 cm x 103 cm (19.9 in x 40.6 in). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

“Due to Van Gogh’s extreme enthusiasm and dedication to first religion and then art coupled with the feverish pace of his art production many believe that mania was a prominent condition in Van Gogh’s life. However, these episodes were always followed by exhaustion and depression and ultimately suicide. Therefore, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or manic depression makes sense with the accounts of these episodes in Van Gogh’s life.” (source: http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/mental.html

“While in Paris, he began to suffer from minor paroxysms consisting of episodes of sudden terror, peculiar epigastric sensations, and lapses of consciousness.”  Also, Van Gogh wrote “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me; now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the head.…and at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse.” (source: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.4.519)


2. MARK ROTHKO – Known for Abstract Expressionism – Depression +

Rothko, Mark. Self-Portrait. 1936. Collection of Christopher Rothko.// Rothko. Untitled. 1969. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, USA.
“Throughout this time Rothko’s personal life was shadowed by his severe depression, and likely an undiagnosed bipolar disorder.” (source: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-rothko-mark.htm)


3. JEAN-ANTOINE WATTEAU – Known for Rococo – Possible Depression

Carriera, Rosalba. Watteau in the last year of his life, 1721. Museo Civico Luigi Bailo, Treviso.//Watteau, Gilles (or Pierrot) and Four Other Characters of the Commedia dell’arte, c. 1718. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

His artwork conveyed “a sober melancholy, a sense of the ultimate futility of life…” (source: http://www.jean-antoine-watteau.org/biography.html)


“He is described by his biographers as sad and fearful, suspicious and awkward in company, and his portraits confirm this description. His eyes are empty and expressionless as those of a sparrow hawk; his hands are red and bony, and his mouth is drooping. In the portrait in which he is represented without a wig, it seems to mock his own ugliness and sickness. The hair is tangled and disordered, the clothes droop about low shoulders and a small chest. Though surrounded by riches, beauty, coquetry, and elegance, he, the consumptive, had no part of this charmed world.” (source: http://www.historyofpainters.com/watteau.htm)


4. JACKSON POLLOCK – Known for Abstract Expressionism – Depression mixed with Alcoholism

Picture from National Gallery of Arts Website on November 19, 2004.// Pollock. Mural. 1943. Peggy Guggenheim Townhouse.

“It is clear that Jackson Pollock went through periods of depression, during which he would retreat from the outside world and, more or less, spend all his time in bed. There are paintings depicting him crying and helpless during these periods.” (source: https://www.cnsforum.com/educationalresources/filmforum/jackson_pollock)


5. EDVARD MUNCH – Known for Expressionism/Symbolism – Chronic Depression, Phobias +

Munch, Edvard. Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm. 1895. Courtesy the Gundersen Collection © The Munch Museum, The Munch – Ellingsen Group, BONO, Oslo, DACS, London 2012.// Munch. The Scream. 1893. National Gallery, Oslo, Norway.

“While Munch’s art and flourished in the early 1900s, his emotional physical health deteriorated. He had a number of hospitaliza­tions for respiratory problems, “nerves,” and alcoholism. He suffered from chronic depression and many phobias (agoraphobia, germophobia, etc.). He complained of insomnia and had many somatic symp­toms (chest pains, gastrointestinal problems and headaches). He was suspicious of people, and when he used alco­hol, his paranoia increased to the point where he got into bar­room brawls. He also experienced hallucina­tions, usually during alcoholic bouts or febrile illness.” (source: https://www.msu.edu/course/ha/446/panter.htm)

To quote Munch himself: “My afflictions belong to me and my art–they have become one with me. Without illness and anxiety, I would have been a rudderless ship.” (source: https://www.msu.edu/course/ha/446/panter.htm)


6. JACOB LAWRENCE known for Dynamic Cubism – Depression

Lawrence, Jacob. Self-Portrait. 1977. National Academy Museum.// Lawrence. Paper Boats. 1949. Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden University of Nebraska-Lincoln F.M. Hall Collection

“He grew depressed, however, and in 1949, he checked himself into Hillside Hospital in Queens, where he stayed for 11 months. He painted as an inpatient, and the work created during this time differs significantly from his other work, with subdued colors and people who appear resigned or in agony.” (source: http://www.biography.com/people/jacob-lawrence-9375562#world-war-ii-and-after)


7. HENRI MATISSE – Known for Post-Impressionism/Fauvism – Depression

 Matisse. Self-Portrait in a Striped T-shirt. 1906. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. // Matisse. The Dessert: Harmony in Red. 1908. Royal Academy of Arts (2008–2008), Hermitage Museum.

“the artist confided: “I’m rather inclined to depression and sometimes see everything in black … The biggest worry was losing my love of work. I can put up with the blackest despair by whistling or singing.” (source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jul/14/henri-matisse-banned-interview)


8. GEORGIA O’KEEFE – Known for American Modernism – Nervous Breakdown

Dove, Arthur G. Georgia O’Keefe.  1911. Platinum print, 9-5/8 x 7-3/4 inches. The Art Institute of Chicago. Alfred Stieglitz Collection © 2009 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.// O’Keefe. Blue II. Watercolor on paper, 30-4/8 x 22-1/4 inches. Private collection. © 2009 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“In the early 1930s, a nervous breakdown led to her hospitalization, and caused her to set aside her brushes for more than a year.” (source: http://mentalfloss.com/article/63175/15-things-you-should-know-about-georgia-okeeffe)

9. FRANCISCO DE GOYA – Known for Romanticism – Depression

Goya. Self-portrait at 69 Years. 1815. // Goya. Tío Paquete. c. 1820 Oil on canvas, 39,1 x 31,1 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

In November 1792, Goya became seriously ill in Seville; he began to suffer from headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, hearing loss, as well as problems with his sight, paresis in the right arm 2 3. This was followed by a state of depression together with hallucinations, delirium and gradual loss of weight. (source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3040580/)

10. JOAN MIRO – Known for Surrealism/Abstract Expressionism – Nervous Breakdown

 Miro. Self-Portrait I. 1937-1938. MoMA. // Miro. The Hunter (Catalan Landscape). Montroig, July 1923-winter 1924. MoMA.

“Joan Miro’s family pressured him into working as an accountant for nearly two years until he had a nervous breakdown.” (source: http://www.historyofpainters.com/miro.htm)

“The repugnance of this job weighed upon him so heavily that in 1911, he became gravely ill. Miro’ succumbed to a nervous breakdown (as they referred to it then), followed by typhoid fever. This breakdown was probably the result of a major depressive condition exacerbated by the onerous bookkeeping duties and the stifling of his true artistic vent.” (source: http://www.lagcc.cuny.edu/psychology/moma/sample_paper_5.htm)


11. ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER – Known for German Expressionism – Nervous Breakdown

 Portrait of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oil on Canvas 10×8″, © Copyright 2011 Alan Derwin.// Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Mandolin Player, 1920 © Kirchner Museum Davos.

“He was emotionally fragile and suffered several mental breakdowns throughout his life” (source: http://www.historyofpainters.com/kirchner.htm)


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