The Mystery Of Van Gogh’s Severed Ear: the Different Theories

I’m not original: my favorite painter is Vincent Van Gogh. Trying to figure out what he was like, I’ve read Lust for Life by Irving Stone and the other popular biographical books on the artist.

The drama At Eternity’s Gate about the final years of the Van Gogh’s life came out recently…

Of course, I have watched the film. It was interesting to know a new interpretation of a number of facts (particularly those relating to the strange event with the ear) and to compare the guesses with some previous theories.

What Happened that Night in Arles?

The tragedy happened in Arles on 23 December 1888.

Vincent Van Gogh rented a house there and shared it with another genius, Paul Gauguin. Both artists were difficult people, it was a tricky task for them to get on. They had been working side by side around nine weeks before the last quarrel…

A Few Unclear Details

So, Gauguin and Van Gogh had a row, then it turned out that the left Van Gogh’s ear is mutilated with a razor. That’s all we can say for sure.

First of all, there is an opinion according to which the famous Dutchman have made up the story about the impulsive act of self-harm to protect his friend from prosecution. Historians Rita Wildegans and Hans Kaufmann in their book Pakt des Schweigens (Pact of Silence, 2009) put forth the unexpected version: possibly, Paul Gauguin wounded Van Gogh during their fracas – on purpose or by accident. The version is based on vague hints found in the two painters’ written accounts.

In the film At Eternity’s Gate, the artist injured himself on his own.

The film director Julian Schnabel ‘cuts off’ almost the entire Vincent’s ear, not only its earlobe. Apparently, he maintains the researcher Bernadette Murphy’s point of view. She published the book Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story  (2016) where was presented crucial medical proof – a note with drawings by Van Gogh’s doctor Felix Rey.

Ms. Murphy has also traced the data of the girl named Rachel who got the legendary ear as a gift. The maid may haven’t been a prostitute as it had previously been thought.

Why Van Gogh Sliced off His Ear?

I reckon the artist was able to do it himself. Just imagine the circumstances under which everything happened.

Van Gogh painted much in Arles  – maybe, too much: hundreds of his artworks were created there in a relatively short period. In spite of the great productivity, Vincent (an adult man!) couldn’t earn a living. The poor fellow lived on his brother Theo’s money.

Martin Bailey in his work Studio of the South: Van Gogh in Provence (2016) pay attention to the news which Vincent received from Theo in the winter – the painter knew Theo Van Gogh had got engaged…

We find obvious evidence of Van Gogh’s depression in his letters. What if the quarrel with Gauguin was only the last straw?

We cannot solve the mystery, but all in all, that isn’t so important. His breathtaking paintings are much more attractive enigma, aren’t they?

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Natalia Usanova
I am a poet and an amateur artist. A few years ago, it seemed to me creating works of art is a much more important occupation than reading books, visiting galleries, or listening to music. Now I don't think so. Let me share with you the masterpieces which have changed my life and can change yours. Follow me on Twitter!

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