10 Questions About Van Gogh’s Ear Answered

Vincent Van Gogh was one of the most well-known painters in Western Art. Van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853, and killed himself at the age of 37. He’s done almost 860 oil paintings and 2100 artworks over a decade. His artwork included portraits, self-portraits, and landscapes that laid the foundation for modern impressionist art. The most widely debated fact about Van Gogh is his ear.

Van Gogh religious That’s right - his ear. Well, here’s all you need to know!

Why Did Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear?

This is the first question that comes to mind when Van Gogh is mentioned. There are theories that seem as valid for why he cut off his ear. Some say that he was afraid of losing attention after learning that his brother Theo was going to marry a woman called Jo. German scholars suggested that Van Gogh sliced his ear after getting into a fight with his friend, Paul Gauguin. There are other theories that suggest that he cut his ear to present it to a prostitute named Rachel.

When Did He Cut His Ear?

Based on police reports and hospital records, Van Gogh cut his ear shortly before Christmas on the 23rd of December, 1888.

How Did He Cut Off His Ear?

Van Gogh cut off his ear using a razor blade. Some researchers say that he took the razor and slit his ear instantly.

Did He Cut Off His Entire Ear?

No. Though most people believe that Van Gogh cut off his entire ear, that’s a common misconception. He only severed part of his ear lobe.

Edit: According to the drawing below by Van Gogh's doctor Felix Rey, his ear entire ear was cut off!

And there is more evidence Van Gogh cut off his entire ear, shown in this great documentary by the BBC: The Mystery of Van Gogh's Ear.

What Did He Do With It?

As soon as he cut it off, he bled profusely. Van Gogh wrapped it in a cloth and walked into a nearby brothel. He presented the ear to a worker at the brothel named Rachel and fainted immediately. Later, he woke up, went home, and slept in his bed. The next morning, police found him after being alerted by Rachel.

What Happened After The Police Found Him?

As soon as the police found him, they rushed him to a nearby hospital to get him treated. After recovery, Van Gogh was discharged from the hospital and immediately started working on his “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear”. He created the portrait because he strongly felt that this was an important event in his life.

What Did Paul Gauguin Do When He Learned About This Incident?

Paul Gauguin sent a telegram to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, asking him to come immediately. After that, he left for Paris and never returned.

Why Does Van Gogh Have A Bandage On His Right Ear?

Van Gogh always used a mirror for his self-portraits. That's why many people make a mistake thinking that he sliced a part of his right ear, instead of his left.

Did His Friend Have Something To Do With It?

German scholars suggest that Van Gogh's friend, Paul Gauguin, sliced Van Gogh’s ear with a sword. The theory states that they got into a fight and Gauguin sliced his ear. They decided not to tell the truth to hide Van Gogh's shame and Gauguin's guilt.

What Letter Did Van Gogh Send To Paul Gauguin After This Incident?

In the first letter, he wrote: “I will keep quiet about this and so will you.”. But after a few years, Paul Gauguin wrote about Van Gogh to another friend saying “ A man with sealed lips, I cannot complain.”

After this incident, Van Gogh got himself admitted into a mental institution in Saint-Remy. It was there he created most of his well-known pieces of art.
    26-06-2017 16:37     Comments ( 2 )
Comments (2)
 nn -  27-04-2023


 andrew raymond jones -  25-08-2021

Two German art historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans who reviewed the police investigations, witness accounts and the artists' letters, argue Gauguin a competent fencer sliced off Vincent’s ear with his rapier during a fight and then the two artists agreed to hush up the truth. Paul Gauguin's Sketch of the Ear Gauguin's journals contain a sketch of an ear labelled with the word "ictus." The Latin word "ictus" means "blow" "hit" or "thrust." It was used in fencing circles to announce a strike. Above the ear the path left by an epee was drawn by Gauguin represented by zigzags. In his journals Gauguin stresses that the ear was cut off "in a clear cut" and "close to the head". But Gauguin was not present when this occurred it is the account of an eye witness. Paul Gauguin the Fencer In his memoirs Avant et Après (Before and After) Gauguin dedicates long passages to his fencing career. Gauguin held the title of "Maître d'armes civiles (Master of Civilian Weapons)" and possessed several sharp rapiers. It is documented Gauguin had fought duels with these rapiers. We know Gauguin brought his fencing equipment with him to Arles. Paul Gauguin in a letter to Vincent wrote, "At the next opportunity if you can send me by parcel post my 2 fencing masks and gloves which I left on the shelf in the little upstairs room." What happened to the rapier that accompanied the masks and gloves? Why wasn’t that left behind? Because it was the weapon used to attack Vincent with. "Don't bother yourself with the studies that I deliberately left in Arles as not being worth the trouble of transporting them. On the other hand, the sketchbooks contain notes which are useful to me, and I accept your offer to send them to me. As well as the 2 masks and gloves." Why did Paul Gauguin leave in such a hurry? What was Paul Gauguin afraid of? Retaliation Paul Gauguin talks to the Police Paul Gauguin said to the Police, “I had almost crossed the Place Victor Hugo when I heard behind me a well-known step, short, quick, irregular. I turned about on the instant as Vincent rushed toward me, an open razor in his hand. My look at the moment must have had great power in it for he stopped and lowering his head set off running towards home.” If Vincent van Gogh was intent on using the razor on Paul Gauguin it makes it highly unlikely he would use it on himself for he was not the intended target. The Policeman on arriving at the scene said to Gauguin “What have you done to your comrade, Monsieur?” “I don’t know…” “Oh, yes… you know very well… he is dead.” The Policeman who arrived at the scene believed it was Gauguin who had sliced off the ear. They did not believe it was an act of self-mutilation. “All right, Monsieur, let me go upstairs. We can explain ourselves there.” Then in a low voice Gauguin said to the police superintendent: “Be kind enough Monsieur to awaken this man with great care and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal to him.” The reason the sight of Paul Gauguin might prove fatal to Vincent van Gogh is because he is the one who sliced off his ear with a Rapier. If Vincent van Gogh sliced off his own ear he would not be troubled by Gauguin's presence. Once awake Vincent asked for his comrade, his pipe and his tobacco; he even thought of asking for the box that was downstairs and contained our money. These are not the actions of a man who has gone mad who is insane but the actions of a man who enjoys the soothing effects of smoking tobacco early in the morning……………….. With pressure from alarmed neighbours and local police Vincent Van Gogh was soon committed into an insane asylum where he continued to paint not the actions of a man who is insane…...