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Meissner, W.W. (1999). Love and Sexuality in the Life and Art of Vincent van Gogh. Ann. Psychoanal., 26:269-294.

(1999). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 26:269-294

Love and Sexuality in the Life and Art of Vincent van Gogh

W. W. Meissner, S.J., M.D.

The power and passion of the art of Vincent van Gogh is familiar to all art lovers. One cannot view his paintings, especially his paintings of women, without a sense of the intensity and passion he poured into these depictions. The analytic mind comes away from such works pondering what depths of feeling and libidinal charge lay behind such efforts to probe the character and existence of the women in his world. In Vincent's case, we have the benefit of a wealth of material he provided us to further our quest. In addition to his artistic productions—the proliferation of paintings and drawings that he produced in the ten short years of his artistic career—he left behind a body of letters numbering in the hundreds—primarily to his brother Theo, but also to other family members and friends. The letters constitute a unique body of intimate self-reflection and revelation, in which Vincent poured out the anguish, self-doubt, and fierce desire encompassing his heart and mind.

The tragic drama of Vincent's life story is well known—beginning with his coming into the world as a replacement child (Nagera, 1967; Meissner, 1992a), his abortive efforts to follow a career as an art dealer and later to pursue a vocation to the religious ministry (Tralbaut, 1969; Lubin, 1972; Meissner, 1997), his struggles and disappointments in trying to become an artist (Hulsker, 1990; Meissner, 1994b), the tragic circumstances of his psychotic illness and his self-mutilation (Edelheit, 1974; Runyan, 1987; Meissner, 1994a), and the final descent of the curtain in his suicide (Meissner, 1992b). However, the powerful currents of erotic passion and libidinal desire that swirled through his inner world have received much less attention from psychoanalytic students.

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