Gauguin was the one who dunnit. Or so a new book claims.
The general understanding is that the mentally ill Dutch painter Van Gogh cut off his ear after falling out with Paul Gauguin rather publicly, outside a brothel in Arles. German academics Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, after years of painstaking research into the artists' lives and police files, have refuted this in a book called (surprise, surprise) Van Gogh's Ear.
The subtitle tells it all: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence. According to Kaufmann and Wildegans, there was indeed a pact -- both men agreed to tell the self-maiming story to the gendarmerie, to protect Gauguin's reputation.
So what really happened? That comes down to guess and circumstance, but the writers have agreed that the ear was flicked off by Gauguin with a fencing sword, perhaps in the quarrel, or perhaps in a drunken feint. Van Gogh then wrapped it up and handed it to a prostitute called Rachel.
Gauguin moved to Tahiti (to protect what was left of his reputation?), and painted famous portraits of his fourteen-year-old mistress. Van Gogh died in 1890, after shooting himself in the chest.