In these series, Van Gogh was not preoccupied by his usual interest in filling his paintings with subjectivity and emotion; rather the two series are intended to display his technical skill and working methods to Gauguin,[134] who was about to visit. The 1888 paintings were created during a rare period of optimism for the artist. Vincent wrote to Theo in August 1888, "I'm painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when it's a question of painting large sunflowers ... If I carry out this plan there'll be a dozen or so panels. The whole thing will therefore be a symphony in blue and yellow. I work on it all these mornings, from sunrise. Because the flowers wilt quickly and it's a matter of doing the whole thing in one go."[243]
^ Theo and his wife, Gachet and his son, and Signac, who all saw Van Gogh after the bandages were removed, maintained that only the earlobe had been removed.[142] According to Doiteau and Leroy, the diagonal cut removed the lobe and probably a little more.[143] The policeman and Rey both claimed Van Gogh severed the entire outer ear;[142] Rey repeated his account in 1930, writing a note for novelist Irving Stone and including a sketch of the line of the incision.[144] 

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The self-portraits reflect an unusually high degree of self-scrutiny.[233] Often they were intended to mark important periods in his life, for example the mid-1887 Paris series were painted at the point where he became aware of Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Signac.[234] In Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, heavy strains of paint spread outwards across the canvas. It is one of his most renowned self-portraits of that period, "with its highly organized rhythmic brushstrokes, and the novel halo derived from the Neo-impressionist repertoire was what Van Gogh himself called a 'purposeful' canvas".[235]

Many of the late paintings are sombre but essentially optimistic and, right up to the time of Van Gogh's death, reflect his desire to return to lucid mental health. Yet some of his final works reflect his deepening concerns.[257][258] Writing in July 1890, from Auvers, Van Gogh said that he had become absorbed "in the immense plain against the hills, boundless as the sea, delicate yellow".[181]


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Van Gogh stayed within what he called the "guise of reality",[218] and was critical of overly stylised works.[219] He wrote afterwards that the abstraction of Starry Night had gone too far and that reality had "receded too far in the background".[219] Hughes describes it as a moment of extreme visionary ecstasy: the stars are in a great whirl, reminiscent of Hokusai's Great Wave, the movement in the heaven above is reflected by the movement of the cypress on the earth below, and the painter's vision is "translated into a thick, emphatic plasma of paint".[220]
Despite a pessimistic diagnosis, Van Gogh recovered and returned to the Yellow House on 7 January 1889.[155] He spent the following month between hospital and home, suffering from hallucinations and delusions of poisoning.[156] In March, the police closed his house after a petition by 30 townspeople (including the Ginoux family) who described him as "le fou roux" (the redheaded madman);[149] Van Gogh returned to hospital. Paul Signac visited him twice in March;[157] in April Van Gogh moved into rooms owned by Dr Rey after floods damaged paintings in his own home.[158] Two months later, he left Arles and voluntarily entered an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Around this time, he wrote, "Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant."[159]
In 1892 Émile Bernard organised a small solo show of Van Gogh's paintings in Paris, and Julien Tanguy exhibited his Van Gogh paintings with several consigned from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. In April 1894 the Durand-Rue Gallery in Paris agreed to take 10 paintings on consignment from Van Gogh's estate.[269] In 1896, the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse, then an unknown art student, visited John Peter Russell on Belle Île off Brittany.[270][271] Russell had been a close friend of Van Gogh; he introduced Matisse to the Dutchman's work, and gave him a Van Gogh drawing. Influenced by Van Gogh, Matisse abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright colours.[271][272]
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Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime, and was considered a madman and a failure. He became famous after his suicide, and exists in the public imagination as the quintessential misunderstood genius, the artist "where discourses on madness and creativity converge".[6] His reputation began to grow in the early 20th century as elements of his painting style came to be incorporated by the Fauves and German Expressionists. He attained widespread critical, commercial and popular success over the ensuing decades, and is remembered as an important but tragic painter, whose troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist. Today, Van Gogh's works are among the world's most expensive paintings to have ever sold at auction, and his legacy is honoured by a museum in his name, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which holds the world's largest collection of his paintings and drawings.
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