KARACHI: Art and medicine were linked by eminent neurosurgeon Dr Rashid Jooma during the Sixth Sense Forum lecture on ‘The peril of diagnosis without examination: stories of the artist and the king’ at the Aga Khan University here on Thursday.
Telling the story of Vincent Van Gogh, an artist of tremendous skill, he said that he liked to capture more than reality in his paintings. “He chose to depict historical scenes of working-class people. There is the example of his painting of 1885 ‘The Potato Eaters’ in which the peasants are eating potatoes with the same dirty hands they picked them with,” he said, adding that Van Gogh would write to his younger brother Theo about all his paintings.
“The brother told him that his paintings were dull and dark and encouraged him to go to Paris to examine the art scene there, which Van Gogh did,” he said.
Van Gogh’s well-known sunflower series came about during his time in Paris. “Claude Monet, a French painter of the time, also painted sunflowers but they don’t say anything. Van Gogh’s sunflowers convey the passing of age, the passing of time and life and death,” Dr Jooma said.
Later, Van Gogh moved to the south of France. It gave way to his paintings of the outdoors with dramatic brush strokes conveying moods. He was continuously depressed and sad and often fought with his friend and artist Paul Gauguin. It was after one such fight that Van Gogh severed part of his ear. He was taken to hospital after that. The first of his paintings to have come out of there was a scene of his ward.
“He liked his doctor, Dr Felix Rey, at the hospital and even painted a portrait of him, which the doctor didn’t like very much and gave to his mother, who hung it on a wall to hide a hole in it. That painting was worth $30 million last year,” said Dr Jooma.
“All this time he was having relapses of depression so his brother advised him to go to an asylum at Saint-Remy. About his physician at Saint-Remy, Dr Gachet, Van Gogh wrote to his brother that he himself seemed troubled. The doctor, an artist too, instead of looking into Van Gogh’s mental problems would ask him about his works and what he had painted recently,” said Dr Jooma.
“The paintings he did there had a mystic relevance. He painted ‘The Starry Night’, ‘Dr Gachet’s Garden in Auvers’ and also a portrait of the doctor. His straight lines were also becoming curvy and he knew this himself as he wrote to his brother, telling him that his creativity was at a height but emotions out of control. Unfortunately, his doctor didn’t notice this change. Finally, the tormented genius shot himself and died three days later,” said Dr Jooma ending the story of the artist to go on to the story of the king, Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Starting from his childhood, he said that he was a dreamy child, obsessed with Germanic heroes. Two years after he ascended the throne there was the Prussian War in which he lost his kingdom. When his family got him engaged to Princess Sophia of Prussia, he found some excuse to break the engagement as he had homosexual desires.
“He was close to Wilhelm Richard Wagner, a German composer. He wanted to build a set for Wagner’s grand operas so he built a fairytale castle for this, which is now a major travellers’ attraction,” said Dr Jooma, adding that Ludwig II was an eccentric with peculiar habits such as dining alone on an elevated table, building huge castles with his personal money, which the royal family was not pleased about.
“If they wished to depose him and take away his power, they needed to have a reason for it according to their constitution. So they approached his father’s brother, his uncle Luitpold, who could take over the government as prince regent,” he said.
“But the uncle said that he needed documented evidence that says that Ludwig was unfit to rule. That was when they approached a professor of psychiatry, Bernhard von Gudden, who went about collecting evidence to prove that he had paranoia, which couldn’t be treated.
“Ludwig was committed to Bernhard Castle but the former kept telling the latter that he had him committed without examining him and by just collecting evidence from people who might not have liked him,” he said.
“Both Gudden and Ludwig were found dead after being fished out of the water following their having gone on a walk. Gudden had injury marks but Ludwig had none. Ludwig was young and the doctor old.”
He concluded the stories with the picture of the resting places of the two men getting a diagnosis without being examined.
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2017