THE EAR SAGA

Published September 20, 2022 by Nan Mykel

 

The Real Story of Vincent Van Gogh’s Severed Ear  (From <https://www.vincentvangogh.org/van-gogh-ear.jsp>)

Vincent Van Gogh’s legacy is more than his considerable influence on the direction of Western art. It extends beyond his visionary Post-Impressionistic collection of paintings. The artist’s impulsive act of self-mutilation just before Christmas in 1888 is a key part of the Van Gogh legacy, and new theories regarding what really happened that dark night in Arles, France, continue to fuel an ongoing controversy.

The Arles Experiment

Early in 1888, Van Gogh moved to the south of France where he rented the so-called Yellow House in the town of Arles. There, he created his well-known Sunflowers paintings as well as nearly 300 other artworks.

At Van Gogh’s invitation, Paul Gauguin arrived in Arles in October 1888.  (One author believes it was  Van Gogh’s brother who paid Gauguin to visit). The two painted side by side in the Yellow House for nearly nine weeks. Their relationship was sometimes companionable but often volatile, with Gauguin frequently on the verge of returning to Paris. Matters came to a head on December 23 when the two men quarreled, and Van Gogh ended up with a severed ear and a trip to a nearby mental institution.  (The quarrel has been reported as being about whether it is best to portray reality or what is inside the artist, with Van Gogh favoring the former.

The Official Narrative

The widely accepted story of Van Gogh’s severed ear is that during the quarrel that night, Gauguin stormed out the house. In a fit of madness, Van Gogh grabbed a straight razor and followed, intending his friend harm, but returned home instead. There, he used the weapon on himself, slicing off one ear. He wrapped the wound and delivered the appendage to a maid at the town brothel. In the morning, the police had him taken to the hospital. Gauguin subsequently packed his bags and left for Paris.

ANOTHER VERSION OF THE STORY:  GAUGHIN GRABBED THE RAZOR BLADE AND CUT OFF VAN GOGH’S EAR.  PRESUMABLY TO PROTECT HIS FRIEND FROM BEING ARRESTED, VAN GOGH CLAIMED HE HAD DONE IT HIMSELF.

 

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