The Secret of Wine Addiction: Behind Van Gogh’s Phenomenal Paintings

You may have heard of the Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. His art is famous for its expressive and colourful nature, often featuring swirling brushwork. One popular piece is The Starry Night.

He is known for his emotional and turbulent life full of mental illness and tragedy. He was a passionate artist, but he was sometimes somewhat self-destructive. Some have even questioned whether his wine addiction could be an underlying cause of his erratic behaviour.[1]

Alcoholism is a contentious topic for historians, but many experts agree that Van Gogh was a wine addict. Some argue that his passion for art fueled his addiction; others claim that he drank to escape the pain of being an outcast.

“It seems to me that the great difficulty of writing is to make the language of the educated man express what one feels. And this wine which I am drinking now, very good though it is, does not make me feel anything in particular, except that I feel a little more inclined to write.” – Vincent van Gogh

This quote comes from Van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo in September 1888. Van Gogh expresses his frustration with trying to express his emotions through writing and notes that even good wine does not seem to help. Regardless of the cause, it’s clear from reading letters and journals written by Van Gogh that there was no denying him his daily dose of wine.

wine addiction

Absinthe Addiction

Absinthe was a popular drink among painters and poets of Van Gogh’s generation. It was also known to be hallucinogenic at the time, although this has since been disproven. The beverage was outlawed in the US in 1912 because of the belief that it encouraged aggressive conduct.

Van Gogh was an avid drinker of absinthe, a strong alcoholic beverage banned in many countries due to its supposed effects on those who consumed it. Many people believe Van Gogh’s absinthe addiction led him to cut off his ear, but this is not the case. The famous artist’s self-mutilation resulted from his lifelong mental illness, which drinking could have exacerbated.

Although alcohol may have fueled his creativity, it also deteriorated Van Gogh’s mental health. Some artists like Edgar Degas performed better when under the influence. Vincent Van Gogh would drink to relieve the stress of creating his art. However, alcoholism damaged his mental health and led to depression and unpredictable moods.

“I’ve done a lot of studies of wine bottles and glasses, but I still have a lot to learn. It’s very difficult to get a good effect with the reflections and the transparency. I’m still learning how to paint glass.” – Vincent van Gogh

The Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh loved French wines. His phenomenal painting career was largely fueled by wine.

During an episode of mental illness and suffering from alcohol abuse and depression, Van Gogh eventually succumbed to his mental illness. He slashed his ear off with a razor blade one night in 1888[2], and threatened to repeat the act on other parts of his body, if another artist didn’t take care of him. According to Cornely and Meier, Van Gogh’s lasting manic-depressive condition ended the artist’s life.

Read more: The Influence of Wine on the Pop Culture

Correlation Between Wine Addiction and Mental Disorders

Patients suffering from depression are more likely to binge drink. Similarly, heavy drinkers are more likely to experience more sadness than light or non-drinkers. A biographical study in 2011 found that Van Gogh drank nearly 5 liters (over 4 quarts) of absinthe per day as an adult[3]—that’s way more than what health experts currently recommend.

He also used other drugs such as hashish and ether-soaked cotton balls for anxiety attacks rather than visiting a doctor. These habits could have led him down an addictive path that eventually affected his mental state when combined with overindulgence in alcohol consumption.

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On this day in wine history

March 30, 1853: Van Gogh was born in Holland and spent much of his life in France. He began painting at an early age, and he was exhibiting at local art shows by the time he was 20 years old.

July 29, 1890: Vincent Van Gogh died from a gunshot wound at the age of 37 in what was believed to be a suicide. 


[1] Paul Wolf, Clinical professor of pathology: Creativity and chronic disease Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890); West J Med. 2001 Nov; 175(5): 348.

[2] William M Runyan: Journal of Personality and Social psychology 40 (6), 1070, 1981

[3] Simon Cotton: Vincent van Gogh, chemistry and absinthe; 1 May, 2011

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