For a long, long time it has been widely accepted that the mentally ill and immensely talented Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh, chopped off his own earlobe with a razor. People have made jokes about it for decades and it’s been a pop culture reference for just as long.
But it may not be true.
A new book, based on the original police report of the event, suggests that Van Gogh’s friend, French post-impressionist Paul Gauguin, may have swiped off Van Gogh’s ear with a sword during a rift outside a brothel.
Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, the authors of “In Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence”, argue that the original historical account is inaccurate and contains several irregularities.
Kaufmann and Wildegans looked at witness reports and letters exchanged between the artists, and have since concluded that Gauguin was the one responsible for carving Van Gogh’s lobe clean off his head. The German scholars also claim that Van Gogh then wrapped his severed ear in cloth and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, according to the BBC.
Kauffman says they do not know whether the act was intentional, however they are certain that the legendary artists agreed to invent and push the story that Van Gogh cut it off himself in order to protect Gauguin. That makes it sound like it was an accident, though I don’t see how you can cut someone’s ear off by accident.
In the legendary tale, Gauguin was not present when Van Gogh cut his ear off. “As for Van Gogh, he didn’t confirm anything. Their behaviour afterwards and various suggestions by the protagonists indicate they were hiding the truth” Kauffman told France-based Le Figaro newspaper.
So did Gauguin force Van Gogh to go along with the myth that he de-eared himself? Or was it really an accident that Gauguin, an avid fencer, chopped it off outside a brothel? It may never be known.
Van Gogh later moved to Tahiti, and then to France where he died after shooting himself in the chest. Maybe that was Gauguin, too.