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The Iris Newsletter

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The Story behind The Iris

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) adopted the Iris as its emblem after the historic sale of Les Irises, a painting by Vincent van Gogh, in 1987. Les Irises was painted in the garden of the asylum at St. Remy, in the south of France, in May 1889 when van Gogh was having his most desperate battle with a mental illness, now believed to have been schizophrenia. From the asylum he wrote numerous letters to his brother Theo. In one of these letters, Vincent wrote a haunting account of his illness: "As for me, you must know I shouldn't precisely have chosen madness if there had been any choice? What consoles me is that I am beginning to consider madness as an illness like any other, and that I accept as such."

During this period of his life, van Gogh reportedly painted at a frantic pace. He was discharged from the asylum, but the illness recurred and the following year he committed suicide. His paintings from this period are regarded by experts as his greatest works. Throughout folklore, the iris has been regarded as the symbol of faith, hope and courage, one for each of its three sets of petals, and was given as encouragement to anyone who was suffering.