Van Gogh’s Ear – the story behind the legend

Everyone’s heard of Van Gogh, his depression and his cut off ear but there’s far more than meets the eye (don’t go getting any ideas – we aren’t all tortured artists)

In 1887 Van Gogh moved to Arles, on the south coast of France. Here he hoped to set up an artists commune. Shortly, he was introduced, by his brother – an art dealer, to Paul Gaugin  and for many months they lived and worked side by side – all in perfect harmony. Both artists were inspired by their surroundings and all seemed well…

By October of 1887 however, Gaugin was having doubts about the situation. Vincent was a deeply troubled man and Gaugin’s artistic ideas were growing away from Vincent’s.

On the 23rd December 1887, Vincent asked Gaugin if he was thinking of leaving – he replied that yes, he was. Vincent was devastated – he tore a sentence from the paper he was reading which read: the murderer took flight. Perhaps Van Gogh saw Gaugin as the murderer of his artists utopia?

Gaugin swiftly departed for a walk, only to be stopped by Vincent following him with a razor raised to his ear – this time it was false.

Vincent’s madness continued the rest of the evening – he cut off his ear a little after 10pm and that he wrapped the severed ear in paper and delivered it to a prostitute to be looked after….which seems a little odd to say the least…

It is recorded that Gaugin woke the next morning to find the house covered in blood – on the walls, rags and bedsheets and that the police, on finding Vincent initially thought he had killed himself because of the amount of blood.

It seems a little extreme given the circumstances but some historians consider that Van Gogh’s theological beliefs may’ve inspired him in cutting off his ear – Peter notably cut off the ear of a Roman soldier after Judas betrayed Jesus whilst a month earlier Jack the Ripper had cut off the ear of one of his victims…

Vincent’s time in Arles was the beginning of his most recognisable period of work and the formation of the story that surrounds him – that of his ear.




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