After Outcry From Mental Health Advocates, the Courtauld Gallery Pulls Severed-Ear Erasers From Its Online Van Gogh Shop

Critics are also blasting the museum for selling a bar of soap for “the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles."

Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear (1889). Collection of the Courtauld, London.

A group of gift shop souvenirs accompanying a new Vincent van Gogh exhibition in London has stirred controversy as critics say the museum is making light of mental illness.

Among the merchandise is a £6 ($8) eraser shaped like a severed ear; a £5 ($6.75) bar of soap for “the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles”; and a £16 ($21.60) “emotional first aid kit,” branded as “a box of wise emergency advice for 20 key psychological situations.”

The souvenirs went on sale at the Courtauld Gallery earlier this month, complementing the museum’s new exhibition of Van Gogh’s self-portraits

There’s a huge appetite for the Dutch artist right now, with immersive Van Gogh experiences popping up across Europe and North America over the past year. But some say the Courtauld has gone too far in trying to capitalize on the fervor, exploiting his self-mutilation, psychosis, and other personal battles for cash.

A van Gogh-themed “emotional first aid kit" sold by the Courtauld Gallery in London.

A van Gogh-themed “emotional first aid kit” sold by the Courtauld Gallery in London.

“Suicide is not a joke and mental illness is not a joke,” Charles Thomson, a figurative painter and co-founder of the Stuckist group, told the Daily Mail, which first reported the controversy. “This is shallow, nasty, and insensitive. What next? Van Gogh’s suicide pistol?”

David Lee, editor of the Jackdaw magazine, an arts publication, offered another comparison. “I can’t believe this isn’t someone in marketing’s attempt at tasteless humor in the pub after work,” he told the Daily Mail

“Would they, for example, be prepared to sell pencils in the shape of a false leg at a Frida Kahlo exhibition?” he said, referring to the Mexican artist who lost a limb to gangrene.

Vincent van Gogh sunflower soap, "for the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles." Photo courtesy of the Unemployed Philosophers Guild

Vincent van Gogh sunflower soap, “for the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles.” Photo courtesy of the Unemployed Philosophers Guild

The eraser and the soap have both been removed from the Courtauld’s online store, but the emotional first aid kit remains. Representatives from the museum did not respond to Artnet’s request for comment.

The show, which has otherwise received positive reviews from critics, is built around one the Courtauld’s prized collection pieces, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, which was painted in 1889, one year before his death by suicide. Other canvases in the 16-piece show include the artist’s Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat (1887), Self-Portrait with Straw Hat (1887), and Self-Portrait as a Painter (1888).


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