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Friday, May 8, 2009

Van Gogh did not cut off his ear

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.


Amber said...

Lucky Rachel.

If only this had happened in 2009. Can you imagine what the tabloids would pay her for her story today?

In fact (ah ha, ha ha)...she could make a CAR-EAR out of it!!!

(Thank you, thank you; I'll be playing this blog all week. Please tip generously).

Joan Druett said...

Thank you Amber for making me laugh! And how about the women in Gauguin's life? Not his wife, left abandoned in France, or the Tahitian mistress with the pretty name of Teha'amana. The woman I would really like to know about is Suzanne Bombridge, the wife of a Tahitian chief. Apparently Gauguin painted her portrait, sent it back to France, and alors! his reputation was ruined for ever.

It's also qhite hard to believe that Gauguin would mutilate the brother of the man who was trying to sell his art (Theo Van Gogh). Even drunk, he would have hesitated to practice his feints on such a valuable contact.

Great to hear from you again, Amber!

Anonymous said...

Dear Joan Druett

I don't think Gauguin cut van Gogh's ear with a sword... the two researchers didn't realize (despite 10 years of research) that van Gogh was left-handed.

van Gogh was fencing around with his razor in his left hand at cut the ear-lobe just by bad luck

see the two attached pics

1) Selfportrait with bandage on left ear 1889
2) Selfportrait at the easel 1888

Vincent van Gogh present himself at a lefthanded painter on his most famous selfportrait at all (the the red circle, buttons om mens clothing are allways fixed om the right side of an jacket.

On the selfportrait with bandage you can see he was aware about what was left/right (a mirrored selfportrait)

The 1888 selfportrait is NOT mirrored, dispite VGM claims it is, it looks like a photo, but he holds his palette and brushes in his right hand, so I guess he painted with his left hand.

Kind regards

Svend Erik Hendriksen
Greenland Art Review

Joan Druett said...

Thank you, Svend Erik. I'll put the self-portrait of Van Gogh on the main post, as I don't seem to be able to attach it to the comments form.

PS. I enjoyed looking up "Greenland Art Review" particularly the comment on global warming and amazing pix!