Earlier this week, two German authors published a report on what may likely be the truth to how Vincent Van Gogh lost his ear. For the past 120 years, we have believed that an aging Van Gogh cut off his own ear as he slid deeper into madness.
Now, new details have emerged that this story of narcissistic mutilation may be nothing more than a cover-up for an embarrassing mistake between two friends. Based on their research, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans have presented a strong case that Paul Gauguin, an expert fencer, accidentally or possibly intentionally sliced off Van Gogh’s ear. The result of a long-running argument largely brought on from Van Gogh’s journey into madness.
The story gets more intriguing as Van Gogh’s severed ear gets delivered to Rachel, a prostitute in the local brothel just down the road from Van Gogh’s “Yellow house”. Rumours abound that both artists were in love with Rachel, their troubled friendship and whether any of this was a catalyst for their final confrontation. Details of the story can be found in this Guardian link. A somewhat lighter take on the cause of this drama can also be found on Frank Lesser’s site, having a personal dislike for dirty dishes, I am tempted to agree with Lesser’s story.
The tale is captivating to those who follow art, and even those that don’t. To realise that what we have been led to believe for the past 120 years is untrue, makes you wonder. What else may not be what it seems?
Why would two of the greatest artists of the past two centuries keep the truth quiet? Art relies so much on the viewers’ perspective, could Gauguin and Van Gogh have been worried that our perspective of their work would have fundamentally changed if the truth came out? Think about this the next time you look at one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits or Gauguin’s Tahiti; has your impression changed? Do you feel more sympathy for Van Gogh or more critical of Gauguin’s work?
Art is one of the greatest forms of communication we have. It captures life at a point in time, through artists’ hands and hearts we see history retold. When left unadultered, far from the manipulative hands of power, art can give a dipiction of history that words can never recreate.