New research by Martin Bailey suggests Van Gogh did not cut off his own ear because of a row with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, but instead because his brother was to marry.
Reporter: Holly Patrick | Sub-Editor: James Brookes
The notion of Van Gogh being so angry with Gauguin that he cut off his left ear with a razor blade, wrapped it in tissue and hand delivered it to a prostitute at a brothel he frequented, seems somewhat romantic. But writer Martin Bailey now suggests that this gesture of infuriation took place, not in the name of anger or love, but in envy and protest.
In his new book Studio of the South, Bailey writes that Van Gogh discovered his brother Theo’s intentions to marry after a whirlwind romance. The artist received the news via letter on Sunday 23 December 1888, the precise day that he sliced his ear from his body.
He was found in his dwellings in Arles, France by police the following day and was taken to hospital before being discharged a short time later.
Van Gogh, Bailey suggests, feared that Theo was about to embark on a new life, one where he would have to finance his wife and family. Having been Van Gogh’s greatest confidant and financial supporter, the anger became too much for the artist, whom at the time was struggling and was yet to sell a single canvas.
This anxious and desperate time in his life, however, led him to create some of his most well-known and admired paintings including Starry Night and Bedroom in Arles.
Although Bailey’s research only suggests another theory of what may have inspired Van Gogh to mutilate his body, it can be agreed that the artist’s irrational tantrum had severe consequences, even if it was in the name of envy and fear.