Frequently Asked Questions Van Gogh's Life

The Theories of Vincent van Gogh’s Ear

Vincent van Gogh is a well known artist but part of the fame and legend of the man is because of the mystery surrounding the incident with his ear. It is widely believed that following an argument with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh returned home, and with a razor, cut off a portion of his left ear. He then took the piece of ear to a nearby brothel and gave it to a woman named Rachel to whom he said, “Guard this object carefully.” You can read more about the incident on our site, Van Gogh Gallery, here.

Though many scholars believe the above explanation is as close to the reality of what occurred as we will ever know, there is no real proof to substantiate the story other than Guaugin’s own self-serving claims. This has led others to have different ideas about what might have taken place. Rather than an epileptic seizure accidentally causing him to cut his ear, or a fit a lunacy causing a madman to harm himself, others believe that perhaps the eccentric artist, Paul Gauguin is actually the culprit.

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear

Historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans believe that Van Gogh might have created the story of cutting his ear in order to protect his friend, Paul Gauguin. They argue that Gauguin cut Van Gogh’s ear with a sword during a heated argument. Kaufmann says,

“We carefully re-examined witness accounts and letters written by both artists and we came to the conclusion that van Gogh was terribly upset over Gauguin’s plan to go back to Paris, after the two men had spent an unhappy stay together at the “Yellow House” in Arles, Southern France, which had been set up as a studio in the south.”

“On the evening of December 23, 1888 van Gogh, seized by an attack of a metabolic disease, became very aggressive when Gauguin said he was leaving him for good. The men had a heated argument near the brothel and Vincent might have attacked his friend. Gauguin, wanting to defend himself and wanting to get rid of ‘the madman’ drew his weapon and made a move towards van Gogh and by that he cut off his left ear.”

“We do not know for sure if the blow was an accident or a deliberate attempt to injure van Gogh, but it was dark and we suspect that Gauguin did not intend to hit his friend.”

Unfortunately there is no definitive proof of what actually happened the night a portion of Van Gogh’s ear was cut off so the mystery surrounding Van Gogh and his ear lives on.

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  1. Es muy posible esta ultima ya que se llevaban muy mal debido a la miseria en que vivian y se robaban mutuamente los colores

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