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Most art fans have heard the story of Vincent van Gogh cutting off his own ear and giving it to his favourite prostitute. But does anyone know what really happened?
The story goes that the combination of van Gogh’s heavy drinking of absinthe, smoking, and possible poisoning from lead based oil paints, led the artist to a madness which caused him to slash off his ear on December 23, 1888, and then commit suicide in 1890.
In their book “Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence”, Hamburg, Germany based art historians Hans Kaufman and Rita Wildegans present a different theory. The pair spent ten years reviewing French police investigations, witness accounts, and the artist’s personal letters. They believe that fellow artist and friend Paul Gauguin, who was known to have had a collection of weapons including fencing swords, cut off van Gogh’s ear in self-defense.
Gauguin stayed with van Gogh in Arles, France and the two worked together for about two months. The tension between the artists grew and they quarreled often. Van Gogh was vulnerable and hyper-sensitive, and a bullying and egocentric Gauguin often threatened to leave. This was too much for the unstable van Gogh who, in his state of despair, came after Gauguin with a cut-throat razor.
Until recently, it was thought that van Gogh turned his anxiety over Gauguin on himself and severed his own ear and Gauguin, upset by his friend’s state of mind, left Arles. However, Kaufman and Wildegans believe that Gauguin, fed up with van Gogh’s mental instability, decided to leave the house after van Gogh threw a glass at him during an argument. A crazed van Gogh followed him and things became violent. Gauguin, either in anger or self-defense, lopped off part of van Gogh’s left ear.
They believe that van Gogh was so devoted to his friend that he did not report the attack and the two continued to write letters to each other. This theory is based on a phrases that van Gogh wrote to Gauguin and his brother including: “You are quiet, I will be too” and “pact of silence”. As well, van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo describes Gauguin’s aggressive character. He wrote it was lucky Gauguin didn’t have a machine gun or other firearms.
Whether the wound was self-inflicted or not, there is no doubt that Van Gogh, bleeding from his wound, staggered into a bordello and gave a prostitute friend named Rachel his severed ear, telling her to ‘keep this object carefully’. He returned to his house where he nearly died from loss of blood and for weeks he spent his time between the hospital and home, continually crying out for Gauguin.
In July 1890, van Gogh moved to Auvers sur Oise, under the care of doctor Paul Guichet but a few days later, he shot himself in the chest and died two days later.
1. Nocturne painting depicts scenes evocative of night or subjects as they appear in a veil of light, in twilight, or in the absence of direct light. Nocturnes usually include landscapes and the technique has been employed by artists from the Baroque period of the early 17th century to the present. Artists use various methods to depict nocturnes: washes of color, impasto, and linear treatments. The first artist to paint scenes on a regular basis in the nocturne mode was Rembrandt van Rijn
2. Exquisite corpse (also known as “exquisite cadaver” or “rotating corpse”) is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence by following a rule. For example, the artist being allowed to see only a small portion of what the previous person contributed.
3. There are two schools of thought about how Vincent van Gogh lost part of his left ear on December 23, 1888. Some believe that Paul Gauguin cut off van Gogh’s ear in self-defense during a quarrel. Others think that he slashed his own left ear lobe after learning that his brother, Theo, was getting married. Whether the wound was self-inflicted or not, there is no doubt that Van Gogh, bleeding from his wound, staggered into a bordello and gave a prostitute friend named Rachel his severed ear, telling her to ‘keep this object carefully’.
4. William Blake is ranked among the greatest English poets but less known is that Blake is considered to be one of the most original visual artists of the Romantic era. Blake studied art as a boy at the drawing academy of Henry Pars, apprenticed with the commercial engraver James Basire, and entered the Royal Academy Schools as an engraver. Blake also developed a method of etching in relief that enabled him to combine illustrations and text on the same page and to print them himself.
5. A collage (From the French: coller, to glue) is a work of art made from an assemblage of different forms that create a whole. Collage materials may include newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of paper, portions of other artwork, photographs, and other found objects that are attached to a variety of surfaces. The origins of collage can be traced back hundreds of years, but this technique made a reappearance in the early 20th century as an art form of novelty. The term was coined by both Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso at the start of the 20th century when collage re-emerged.