June 19, 2006


For no real reason, I was thinking about Vincent Van Gogh's ear. I knew he had cut it off, but was I was having some trouble really finding solid details about the event.

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear

There also seemed to be some discrepency over whether he cut off his whole ear off, or just part of it.

After some digging, our old pal the internet provided the following from what seems to be a trustworthy Van Gogh site.

On the evening of 23 December 1888 Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had an altercation in which Van Gogh is said to have threatened Gauguin with a knife. Later that evening Van Gogh returned to the "Yellow House" in Arles where he lived and mutilated himself.

Holding the open razor in his right hand, he had sliced through his left ear; starting high at the back and hacking downwards so that all the lower part of the ear had been chopped off. This had left part of the upper ear still attached as a hideous flap of flesh.

Van Gogh, then wrapped the ear in cloth and made his way to a favourite brothel where he presented this "present" to a prostitute. The police were called in and Van Gogh was subsequently hospitalized. The severed tissue of the ear was placed into a jar of alcohol in case it might be needed as evidence. Some months later it was thrown out.

They were even kind enough to provide the following visual aid illustrating the cut. (Apparently the self-portrait shows his right ear bandaged because he was painting his image from a mirror.)

And now we all know the story behind Van Gogh's ear. And the rude, ungrateful whore who didn't even keep it.

UPDATED - Derek wrote:

the article left out the part of why the two were fighting... the prostitute who van gogh attempted to give the ear to was a lady he was in love with, who also happened to be his cousin, who gauguin had been purchasing a physical relationship with. and the two (gauguin and van gogh ) were on an absinthe binge.

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