Courtauld Gallery sparks anger with ‘tasteless’ Van Gogh souvenirs including ear-shaped eraser

‘Suicide is not a joke and mental illness is not a joke,’ said one critic

Sam Hancock
Monday 14 February 2022 01:20 GMT
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<p>Van Gogh’s sunflower soap, ‘for the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles’, is one of the items being sold</p>

Van Gogh’s sunflower soap, ‘for the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles’, is one of the items being sold

A London art gallery has come under fire over the Vincent Van Gogh souvenirs it is selling in conjunction with a major exhibition of some of the artist’s work, including his infamous self-portrait with a bandaged ear.

Products picked by the Courtauld Gallery, located in Somerset House in central London, include socks, scarfs, jigsaws, postcards and print mementoes of his best-known paintings. But critics have said some items for sale appear to make light of the mental illness Van Gogh is known to have suffered, which culminated in his suicide.

When he cut off his left ear after a row with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, the Dutch painter became a legendary “tortured artist”. The range also boasts a £6 ear eraser, a £5 bar of soap – marketed as ideal for “the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles” – and an “emotional first aid kit”, priced at £16, described as “a box of wise emergency advice for 20 key psychological situations”.

Charles Thomson, a co-founder of the Stuckists art movement, said that “suicide is not a joke and mental illness is not a joke.” He told The Mail on Sunday: “This is shallow, nasty and insensitive. What next? Van Gogh’s suicide pistol?”

Meanwhile, art critic David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw magazine, told the newspaper: “I can’t believe that 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?” he added, referring to the artist who had a leg amputated due to gangrene. Mr Lee said he could not fathom why the Courtauld, “supposedly the centre of art history in the UK, if not western Europe”, had decided to sell the items.

The soap is available to buy on the Unemployed Philosophers Guild website

Van Gogh, whose most famous works include Sunflowers and The Bedroom, is thought to have been experiencing psychosis when he cut off his ear in 1888. In 1890, aged 37, he shot himself, dying two days later. It has since been suggested he was suffering from bipolar disorder or temporal lobe epilepsy. The Courtauld has been approached for comment.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

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