Did van Gogh Really Cut off His Ear?
In other words, Vincent van Gogh really did cut off his ear (yes, the whole ear) and then gave it to a woman. However, the idea he cut off his ear because of a woman or cut off his ear and gave it to his girlfriend as an act of love is a myth. This is the case of other elements of the story that get passed around as well, where there is an element of truth but the details are a little off.
Below we separate the facts from myths regarding van Gogh’s ear.
What Happened to van Gogh’s Ear?
The myth behind van Gogh’s ear typically goes something like this:
“Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear lobe and gave it to a woman as a token of affection.” This story either does or doesn’t come with the bit about his fight with Paul Gauguin who was living with him at the time, the woman being a prostitute, and/or something about substance abuse.
The truth behind van Gogh’s ear goes something like this:
Vincent van Gogh was struggling with mental illness and alcohol addiction and was prone to mental health issues. After a particularly bad day where he got some bad news about his brother and his artist friend and flatmate threatened to leave him, he cut off most of his left ear with a razor in a fit of mania. Later that evening he wrapped up his ear, and gave his ear to an 18-year-old maid named Gabrielle Berlatier who worked at the local brothel for safekeeping.
This wasn’t a desperate act of devotion to prove his love to a prostitute, it was an irrational act born from mental illness and a bad day. Vincent van Gogh didn’t even recall the incident after, although he did acknowledge it to some degree as one of his last and most famous paintings “Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear” is a picture of him missing his ear.
Why did Van Gogh cut off his ear?
Did Van Gogh Cut his Whole Ear off?
It appears that van Gogh mostly cut his whole ear off (aside from a bit of ear lobe) and not just a part. This can be seen from “Note from Félix Rey to Irving Stone with a sketch of Vincent van Gogh’s mutilated ear, 18 August 1930,” a letter now at Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Which Ear did Van Gogh Cut off?
The records show he cut off his left ear, although his “Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear” shows his right ear being bandaged. One has to assume that doesn’t help the rumors.
Did Van Gogh Cut of His Ear for a Woman?
Yes, as noted above, he gave his ear to a maid at a brothel. The act didn’t seem to be an act of love, but an act of temporary maddness.