Self-portrait with the ear cut off, Arle
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The Mysterious Case of Van Gogh's Ear

The mystery of Vincent Van Gogh's amputated ear has given rise to several theories: some linked it to a psychotic break, others to his tumultuous friendship with Paul Gauguin. According to academics at the University of Hamburg, it was fellow artist Paul Gauguin, who shared a house with Van Gogh in Arles, of Southern France, who cut off Vincent’s ear during an argument over a prostitute named Rachel. An explanation that, however, was rejected both by the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and by the scholar Martin Bailey.

Through an introduction from his brother Théo, Vincent met Camille Pissarro in Paris in 1886. The relationship between the two artists became very intense, where the lines between the personal and creative intertwined to influence their artistic journeys. Pissarro induced his friend to overcome his youthful way of painting, bringing him into the world of secrets of the Impressionist technique and the studies of Japanese art. After this connection, the colours of Van Gogh’s palette become light and bright with quick and irregular brush strokes, interjected with abstract imagery. Abandoning the regular social themes, he chose to reveal the hidden complexity of still life, and began to use pure color. His painting had become an expression of the mood and a means to free his emotions. Amazed by Van Gogh, Pissarro stated that "Vincent would go crazy or leave the Impressionists far behind" and after a few years added: "That he would do both, I did not foresee".

In 1988, Van Gogh moved to Arles, where he was later joined by his artist friend Gauguin. After a period of harmonious artistic coexistence united by a love of Japan and rich in stimuli, the relationship between them entered a crisis. And, after a clash with Paul Gauguin, Vincent despairing and in the grip of hallucinations cut off his ear or part of it (it is not clear). Gauguin had fled to a hotel a few hours before the incident, but returned the following morning, shortly before police arranged for Van Gogh to be taken to Saint-Paul-De-Mausole, an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. He lived there for just over a year, from May 8, 1889, to May 16, 1890.

The next day Gauguin returned to Paris and spoke quickly with fellow artist Emile Bernard to whom he said Van Gogh had "cut off clean his ear," a remark Gauguin repeated in his 1901 memoirs. But when Gauguin saw Van Gogh very briefly while recovering in bed from the injury, the wound was bandaged and congealed with blood, so it would have been difficult to determine exactly how much of the ear had been lost.  If it was the whole ear he had cut off, that suggests that Van Gogh was determined to cause maximum harm and possibly death to himself. If it was just part of the ear, it could have been an appeal for help. However, as things went, this was the first of many violent crises that plagued the artist long after his stay in the psychiatric hospital.

According to scholar Martin Bailey, Van Gogh cut off his ear because he was psychologically destroyed by the news that his brother Théo, on whom he depended economically, was about to marry. The theory would be elaborated by the expert, after a meticulous investigation into a letter written by Theo informing him of his engagement to Johanna Bonder, that Vincent inserted into the painting "Still Life: Drawing Board with Pipe, Onions and Sealing Wax".  The painting was completed in early 1889, shortly after he was injured, and the news had been sent from his brother from Paris on December 21,1888. Theorizing that the deeply shaken artist, already in a psychotic state was driven to self-harm. On July 27, 1890, after another crisis, Van Gogh deliberately wounded himself in the chest and died two days later, attended by his brother Théo.

The unpopularity of the paintings during his lifetime, and the lack of clients in the second half of the nineteenth century, is illustrated by the commercial failure of Van Gogh who in his short, artistic career managed to sell only one painting. Today, widely recognized in the modern world as one of the greatest artists to have ever lived, he left behind over eight hundred paintings and more than a thousand drawings that continue to be deeply embedded in our visual culture.

The mystery of the infamous amputation of his ear, continues to be a topic of conversation and debate among the artisitc and academic realms ,that also symbolizes the turbulent life and journey that he, and many other artists take on the uncertain road to creation.

Galleria

Vincent Van Gogh's Mutilated Ear

Still life with Drawing Board, Pipe, Oni
Still life with Drawing Board, Pipe, Oni
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Corridor in the Asylum 1889 oil on Canva
Corridor in the Asylum 1889 oil on Canva
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Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh paints sunflowers
Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh paints sunflowers
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Camille Pisarro, L'Ile Lacroix, Rouen, T
Camille Pisarro, L'Ile Lacroix, Rouen, T
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Self-portrait with the ear cut off, Arle
Self-portrait with the ear cut off, Arle
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Van Gogh Self portrait with ear intact
Van Gogh Self portrait with ear intact
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