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London art gallery removes van Gogh souvenirs belittling mental health from sale after backlash

The items on sale included a bar of soap, touted as ideal for a "tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles", and an "emotional first aid kit", which is marketed as "a box of wise emergency advice for 20 key psychological situations"

Vincent van Gogh, Vincent van Gogh paintings, artist Vincent van Gogh, life of Vincent van Gogh, troubled artist Vincent van Gogh, Vincent van Gogh souvenirs, London art gallery, mental health, indian express newsVan Gogh painted Café Terrace at Night also known as The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum as he loved painting the night sky. (Courtesy of The Courtauld/Handout via REUTERS)

An art gallery in London came under fire recently for ridiculing mental health by putting up souvenirs for sale that have direct reference to artist Vincent van Gogh and his troubled life.

The story of how van Gogh lost his left ear is known to many people around the world. The artist, it is believed, had an altercation with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, following which he cut off his own ear and came to be known as the legendary ‘tortured artist’.


The Courtauld Gallery in London was criticised for its display of van Gogh souvenirs that included, among other things, the infamous self-portrait which shows the artist with a bandaged ear. The souvenirs were being sold as part of an exhibition of some of the artist’s most famous works.

According to a CNN report, the gallery — located in Somerset House in central London, which had chosen socks, scarves, jigsaws, postcards and print mementoes of van Gogh’s best paintings — has now removed some souvenirs from its gift shop, after being called out on social media for being insensitive.

It is understood that the gallery sent a statement to CNN acknowledging “concerns raised about a small number of items available in The Courtauld Gallery’s shop and online store”.

“The Courtauld takes mental health extremely seriously. It was never The Courtauld’s intention to present an insensitive or dismissive attitude to this important subject by stocking these items,” the statement read, as mentioned in the report.

“The items in question form a small fraction of those made available as part of the exhibition collection. In light of these concerns, the items will no longer be sold in our stores,” it continued.

Previously, critics had slammed the gallery’s attempt to exploit mental health, by undermining the struggles that the artist experienced in his lifetime, which ultimately led to him dying by suicide in the year 1890, at the age of 37.

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The items on sale included a bar of soap, touted as ideal for a “tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles”, and an “emotional first aid kit”, which is marketed as “a box of wise emergency advice for 20 key psychological situations”.

Charles Thomson, the co-founder of Stuckist group of artists, was quoted as telling Daily Mail, “Suicide is not a joke and mental illness is not a joke. This is shallow, nasty and insensitive. What next? Van Gogh’s suicide pistol?”

Art critic David Lee, the editor of The Jackdaw magazine, was also quoted as saying, “I can’t believe this isn’t someone in marketing’s attempt at tasteless humour in the pub after work. Would they, for example, be prepared to sell pencils in the shape of a false leg at a Frida Kahlo exhibition?” For context, Kahlo, a Mexican artist, had lost a leg to gangrene.

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The gallery is holding its ‘Van Gogh. Self-portraits’ exhibition until May, 2022.

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First published on: 16-02-2022 at 16:30 IST
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