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1888: Why did Van Gogh Cut Off a Part of his Ear?

1888: Why did Van Gogh Cut Off a Part of his Ear?

On this day in 1888, the famous Van Gogh cut off part of his left ear. On his self-portraits, it appears that he is missing part of his right ear, because these were actually made with the help of a mirror.

On this day Vincent Van Gogh cut off a part of his left ear. At that time, he was living in the so-called Yellow House in the city of Arles in southern France. Another famous painter, Paul Gaugin, came to visit him. The two of them worked and lived together in the Yellow House, where Gaugin painted a portrait of Van Gogh called “The Painter of Sunflowers”. On Christmas Eve 1888, Van Gogh’s mental health rapidly deteriorated, so that he threw a glass of absinthe into Gaugin’s face and attacked him with a razor. Gaugin managed to fend him off, but Van Gogh then cut off the lower part of his own left ear and took it to his favorite prostitute, Rachel, asking her to keep it safe.

There are some theories that Vincent cut off his ear in imitation of the Spanish matadors’ tradition to give a part of the killed bull’s ear to their chosen one. More recent theories even claim that it was Gaugin who cut off Van Gogh’s ear, using a sword (he was a skilled fencer). On his self-portraits, it appears that Van Gogh is missing part of his right ear, because these were actually made with the help of a mirror.

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