Vincent Van Gogh is well known for his yellow addiction, which might be related to a health condition . There are several theories about his possible diseases, including epilepsy, Meniere’s disease, and acute intermittent porphyria [2,3,4,5,6].
This yellow obsession makes professionals wonder: were those only reflection of his mind or how he saw the world?
There are different theories around this however, this hypothesis will focus on one theory: Xanthopsia. Xanthopsia is a rare condition that causes yellow vision which can also occur due to medications. Digitalis rarely causes yellow vision following bilirubin deposition in the eye which possibly explains his yellow addiction according to some specialists [7,8,9]. It is well known that he was treated by the famous physician Paul Gachet during the 19th century (Fig. 1). During that time foxglove plant, which is the main ingredient of digitalis, was used for the treatment of epilepsy and mania [2, 10,11,12,13].
Moreover, the yellow color dominates his paintings he painted during his hospital stay.
Although there are several reasons to consider this yellow love is not natural, the opposite seems more reliable because of several reasons.
First, his treatment under Gachet lasted only 2 months. Studies suggest 2 months are not enough for the development of xanthopsia .
Second, Gachet was known for his careful drug usage and even wrote a scientific paper about digoxin dosage.
In conclusion, it is obvious that Van Gogh suffered from some serious health problems. But multiple different reasons make it unlikely that the artist has suffered from xanthopsia.
Gruener A. Vincent van Gogh’s yellow vision. Br J Gen Pract. 2013;63:370–1.
Lee TC. Van Gogh’s Vision Digitalis Intoxication? JAMA. 1981;245:727–9.
Arenberg IK, et al. Van Gogh had Meniere’s Disease and Not Epilepsy. JAMA. 1990;264:491–3.
Erbay Mutlu, Van Gogh’ S. Unknown Illness and the Natural Medicines Used to Treat It. T Klin Tıp Etiği Hukuku Tar. 2003;11:258–62.
Loftus LS, Arnold WN. Vincent van Gogh’s illness: acute intermittent porphyria? BMJ. 1991;303:1589–91.
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vincent-van-Gogh (accessed: 10.10.2016)
Van Gogh, Vincent. Leo Jansen; Hans Luijten; Nienke Bakker, eds. Vincent van Gogh – The Letters. 2009
http://www.aaopt.org/xanthopsia (accessed: 17.05.2017)
http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/154336-clinical (accessed: 17.05.2017)
Van Gogh (İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları,2015)
http://psych.ucalgary.ca/PACE/VA-Lab/AVDE-Website/vangogh.html (accessed: 10.10.2016)
Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Saint-Remy and Auvers (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986),310.
Harris JC. Portrait of Dr. Gachet. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59:1083–4.
Weatherall DJ, Ledingham JGG, Warrell DA. Oxford Textbook of Medicine. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1996. p. 2055.
Ramlakhan SL, Fletcher AK. It could have happened to Van Gogh: a case of fatal purple foxglove poisoning and review of the literature. Eur J Emerg Med. 2007;14:356–9.
Hammacher, Abraham M. Vincent van Gogh: Genius and Disaster. Harry N. Abrams. Abradale Press, New York. 1985.
Marmor MF, Ravin JG. The artist’s eyes. New York, NY: Abrams; 2009.
Sweetman, David. Van Gogh: His Life and His Art. Touchstone. Crown Publishers, New York. 1990; 342–3.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Demir, D., Görkey, Ş. Van gogh and the obsession of yellow: style or side effect. Eye 33, 165–166 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41433-018-0204-2