Chemical Society Kansas City Section
Presentations on Chemistry and the Humanities
The van Gogh syndrome: case histories
from the 20th century
Vincent van Gogh suffered from some sort of toxic psychosis and,
within that group of diseases, acute intermittent porphyria (AIP) provides the
best working hypothesis. All of his documented signs and symptoms can be
accommodated by AIP. Analogous cases from the 20th century provide additional
support. We note that few patients with AIP call attention to their own dark or
reddened urine during crises. It requires ageing. Vincent may have interpreted
any sign of reddish pigmentation as blood coming from his history of scar tissue
in the urethra.
On the litany of illnesses associated with
Vincent van Gogh
The underlying illness of Vincent van Gogh has spawned a surplus of diagnoses from diverse
sources. Most are little more than subjective opinions based on selections of facts and anecdotes.
The art industry treats his illness with restraint and inhibits discussion as if too much attention,
let alone scholarly enquiry, might spoil the market. The popular media keep repeating lengthy
lists of possibilities but avoid judging relative merit. This essay endeavors to resolve the
muddle. All of the currently available information on Vincent supports some type of toxic
psychosis and, within that category, the acute intermittent porphyria hypothesis from Loftus and
Arnold is a prime candidate, and worthy of more public discussion. Clearing the background
nonsense will only enhance wholesome admiration for van Gogh¡¯s creations.
Vincent van Gogh and the thujone connection
The program explores van Goghs
underlying illness, acute intermittent porphyria, and the way his chosen
lifestyle exacerbated his condition and shortened his life. His unusual
sensitivity to alcohol and inadequate diet are reviewed. An intriguing
connection between thujone, a terpenoid in old absinthe, and a tree that grew on
Vincents grave for fifteen years is described.
Chopin illness and heart
The data on Chopins fatal illness are overwhelmingly in support of tuberculosis
as the cause. At a partial necropsy in 1849, his heart was
removed and sealed in a crystal urn with cognac. His disease progression may
have led to tubercular pericarditis which would be visible by visual
examination of the unopened urn. The relic reposes in the Church of the Holy
and the van Gogh legacy
Characteristics of creative
achievement are analyzed in general, and then reviewed in particular with
reference to the letters of Vincent van Gogh. In addition to demonstrating hard
work and unwavering commitment, he mastered technique and theory, displayed
receptivity toward the ideas of others, showed organized skepticism, and
exhibited a willingness to take chances. Above all, there was a reverence of
nature which he shared with the great chemist and physicist Michael Faraday.
III urine and indigo blue
Stage and screen plays by Alan Bennett dramatized the illness of King George
III, and evoked sympathy, titillation, humor ¡ª all within a milieu of power
struggles that included the loss of the American Revolutionary War. The
playwright relied heavily on the medical diagnosis of acute intermittent
porphyria for the English monarch. In the final scene two attendants remark upon
their Kings return to health and observe that the royal urine which had been
blue is now normal. The remarkable thing for any student of porphyria is the
reference to blue because porphyric urines, after aging, are associated with
red, reddish-brown, or purple pigments. This PowerPoint presentation explains
the historic observations.
The Biochemistry of Heme and the Chemistry of Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh had an identifiable syndrome, based on medical signs and the
time-course of his illness. His life-style directly influenced the expression
and severity of symptoms, exacerbated his condition, and provoked crises. The
data support a unifying hypothesis of acute intermittent porphyria as the artist underlying disease, from which two of his five siblings also suffered.
Van Goghs Yellow
The dominance of the yellow region of the spectrum has been explored within a
sample of van Gogh paintings created in Paris, Arles, St. Remy, and Auvers.
Examples of high yellow pintings were not limited to any time or place, thus
ruling out effects of season and climate. Suggestions of reversible xanthopsia
(yellow vision) induced by over dosage with the drugs digitoxin or santonin, or
by natural yellowing of the lens with age, were not supported. We conclude that
about 10% of van Gogh paintings from the four venues are high yellow and due
to artistic preference.