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Astrology at Work: Vincent Van Gogh (Part Two)

The timing of Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide has always been a mystery. After several years of laboring in obscurity and being belittled and rejected by teachers, critics and other artists alike, Van Gogh’s career seemed to be on an upswing in 1890. He had just received a glowing review in a prominent Paris newspaper, and several of his paintings were included in a major exhibition. And, of course, his brother had famously succeeded in selling one of them.

Despite all this good news, in July 1890 Van Gogh shot himself. He died two days later from an infection caused by the wound. The most obvious reason why the artist chose this moment, when his seemed to be on the verge of triumph, to kill himself is the fact that he was mentally ill, out of touch with reality. But there are also some astrological factors to consider. (Click here to see Van Gogh's horoscope.)

In September 1888 transiting Saturn squared his natal Saturn. It repeated this square in March and May 1889. This is, of course, part of one the Saturn Cycles that I describe in my book “Saturn Cycles: Mapping the Changes in Your Life.” In Oct. 1888 Paul Gauguin arrived in Arles to live with Van Gogh. With his Aries impetuosity, Van Gogh envisioned this painter's arrival as the beginning of artist colony. Instead, the emotionally vulnerable Vincent was quickly at odds with his self-involved visitor.

This resulted in the most famous incident in Van Gogh’s life. In Dec. 1888 the artist had a breakdown and sliced off a portion of his ear. In May 1889, a month before Saturn made its last square to its natal place, Van Gogh allowed himself to be admitted to a mental asylum.

But something else happened during this period. In Dec. 1888, just before his breakdown, Van Gogh learned that Theo Van Gogh, the stalwart brother who had supported him financially and emotionally for so many years, was engaged to be married. The wedding occurred in Apr. 1889.

When Saturn reaches a turning point in one of its cycles, we are typically faced with a choice. When Theo decided to get married, Vincent was faced with the choice between becoming an adult and dealing with life without the support of his younger brother, or making a dramatic demonstration of his emotional dependency.

He chose the latter. Then, as Saturn went retrograde and repeated the aspect, he made another choice and put himself in the hands of doctors. Considering the state of mental health treatment during that era, we might question the wisdom of that decision, but it was probably the best option he had.

Unfortunately for Vincent, this option turned out to be a temporary solution. In May 1890 he was pronounced cured and released from the hospital. But, of course, he wasn’t cured. The need for emotional support was still there, and Theo was no longer able to provide the huge amount of support that Vincent required.

And then we have Van Gogh secondary progressed horoscope. There were no major transits at the time of Van Gogh’s suicide, but there was plenty going on with his progressions. Van Gogh’s secondary progressed Sun and Venus were conjunct his natal Saturn. His progressed Moon was on his natal Pluto, and his progressed Mars was on his natal Mercury. Any one of these aspects would sufficient to put someone` in a depressive state of mind, ready to give in to physical and mental weaknesses. Altogether, they describe a period of intense self-criticism and hopelessness.

A complete analysis of Van Gogh’s chart, and the battle that took place within his personality between his Aries need for autonomy and independence and the several other factors in his horoscope that made him emotionally needy, would require an entire book. However, these two snapshots taken from his life show us some of the ways that astrology was working in his life, and death.