The Red Curtain or Homage to Vincent
Anonymous, approx. 1965
(The original of this picture is in the German Epilepsy Museum in Kork.)
One of the foundations to combat epilepsy, the Stiftung Michael in Hamburg, uses this picture as its emblem because it so clearly depicts all the main aspects of epilepsy - medical, psychological and social. The picture was painted around 1965 by a patient in a painting therapy group. The painter shows the whole range of problems which epilepsy causes, and sublimates them in his homage to Vincent van Gogh, who also suffered from the disease.
The dominating red curtain, a symbol for both aggression (the colour) and hiding (it is half closed), shows that the painter was well aware of his situation. He hides his suffering behind a curtain but gives the curtain the aggressive colour red, which has always been a symbol of power and evil. Through the window one sees a deep blue Provencal sky with black birds flying past. These are the birds which in past ages embodied the plague, the Devil and disease-bringing evil spirits, but also the birds which van Gogh painted in his last picture 'Wheat Field with Crows' (1890).
In this picture van Gogh is lying on the floor in a grand mal seizure, his limbs are in a tonic paroxysm (i.e. with extreme muscular tension), his eyes are open wide. The knocked-over chair shows the force with which the man fell. The palette lies untouched - a sign that in a seizure every other action becomes irrelevant; it also shows that the chronic disease can cruelly hinder a person in his or her professional and creative life. Above everything hangs the red curtain, which is also reflected in van Gogh's face, whilst the blue of the painter's wide-open eyes reflects the blue of the sky, like a glimmer of hope.
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