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The Case of Van Gogh's Ear: Is Gauguin Guilty?
A closer look 24 Mar 2015

The Case of Van Gogh's Ear: Is Gauguin Guilty?

It’s difficult to imagine Van Gogh without his bandage covering his face in his famous self-portrait.

As you already know, this bandage covers the mark of his missing ear. The official version that Van Gogh has always declared is that he cut off his own ear with a razor during a fit. One must admit that this violent act of auto mutilation fits with the reputation of the tortured artist he is famous for.

self portrait
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889

We don’t know if Van Gogh would have hurt himself right after a particular fierce quarrel with friend Paul Gauguin. The fight was the result of artistic different viewpoints. Van Gogh claimed that nature should guide the artist’s brush and Gauguin stated that fantasy had to dominate the brush… The two were known to have a tumultuous relation, with ups and downs and their legendary arguments were very frequent.

In 2009, or 119 years after his death, his bloody ear has come back to debate in the artistic world… Two German scholars suggested that he did not cut his ear off himself. Instead suggesting that Gauguin would have committed the crime with a sabre. Excellent fencer, Gauguin always had his weapon on him and trained regularly. Apparently, he used his weapon to ward off Van Gogh who was very violent during the fight. The blade comes too close, the ear falls off and the friendship is over.

Van Gogh didn’t say anything to protect his old friend. This potentially could explain the sudden return of Gauguin to Paris after a rather productive stay at Van Gogh’s atelier. Vincent wrote to his brother Theo a couple weeks after the incident. He claimed: “Paul is one of those of should never be in possession of a weapon.