Why Did Vincent Van Gogh Cut His Ear?
Why Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear is among the most debated topics in art history today.
Vincent van Gogh is a unique artist who was underappreciated in his lifetime. During his lifetime, he always had a hard time finding buyers for his paintings. Van Gogh became famous not because of the paintings he drew during his lifetime, but because of the turmoil in his private life. He was a quiet and unhappy person with mental problems in his private life. His mental breakdown was so serious that he was so ecstatic that he cut off his ear. So why did a painter at the peak of his mastery cut off his own ear, who left magnificent paintings behind? Let’s take a closer look at the mysterious life of Vincent van Gogh.
A quiet December
On December 24, 1888, in Arles, a small town in the south of France, young Louis started the day with extreme excitement. Today was his birthday and he was going to spend time with his brother Felix, a doctor working at the government hospital. Louis was too excited to wait for his brother to come home. That’s why she went to the hospital with him. When Louis went to the hospital in the early hours of the morning, he saw a horse-drawn ambulance enter. Doctor Felix told the semi-conscious man to be taken directly to the operating room on the ground floor and gestured for Louise to follow him.
Young Louis recounted his memories of the patient being treated: “He had a dirty rag around his head, like the farmers who have a toothache. Felix carefully opened the cloth and I saw that the rags were covered with blood. My brother carefully removed the patient’s sticky and filthy bandage using hydrogen peroxide. I watched the operation closely… My brother stopped the bleeding and disinfected the wound. Then he wrapped his head with a clean bandage. I had the honor of giving him the scissors. After Felix did everything he could for the patient, he told the head nurse to take the injured man to the ward.” Louis then realized that the man was someone he had seen in town for a few months. He was a man with bright red hair and blue eyes. This man was Vincent van Gogh.
Mysterious man: Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh is among the most popular artists in the world. His paintings, now worth millions of dollars, are in the collections of the world’s most famous museums. Although the situation is very different today, Van Gogh’s career was rather short. He did not do many works in the early part of his life. Because his paintings were not for sale. He drew most of his paintings, which we admire today, in the last five years of his life. For this reason, he began to be known for a strange event in his private life, not for his drawings in his own time. Known as the “man who cut off his ear” made him unique both during and after his lifetime.
Since his death in 1890, Van Gogh’s life has become a tragic tale where fact and fiction blur. They described him as a distraught man with no money and no friends. He allegedly suffered a mental breakdown as an unhappy man, pushing the limits of his creativity. Among all the wonderful paintings Van Gogh made in Arles, two stand out. The first is “Yellow House” and the other is “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe”. Van Gogh presents himself with bold honesty in both paintings. Even today, people are excited because these pictures tell of his downfall.
Van Gogh’s mental collapse
On December 23, 1888, Gogh suffered a complete mental breakdown. Prior to that day, Van Gogh was having frequent nervous breakdowns due to his psychological problems. He paid no attention to his physical health, let alone his mental health. Not only did he not eat properly, but excessive drinking had brought him to the point of collapse. On December 23, the artist had an argument with his friend Gauguin. His tantrum after the argument resulted in him cutting off his ear. According to the news published in the newspaper Le Forum Republicain, the following happened that day: “Last Sunday at half past eleven, a Dutch painter, Vincent Vaugogh, at the House of Tolerance brothel, asked for a person named Rachel and gave her his ear and said, “Hold this object carefully.” Then he disappeared.” However, an eyewitness statement refutes the newspaper story. Painter Paul Signac states that he visited the hospital in Arles and that Van Gogh “cut off his earlobe, not his entire ear.”
Did the local newspaper exaggerate Van Gogh’s wound? What really happened to his ear?
When Van Gogh’s doctor, Felix, asked the artist why he did this, he replied that it was “a purely personal matter”. According to Doctor Felix’s account, Van Gogh had indeed cut off his ear. On the other hand, in some memoirs that have survived, it is written that the artist only slightly damaged his earlobe. So, which of these stories are we to believe? Let’s look for the answer to the question in his work titled “Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear and a Pipe”.
In the self-portrait, we see a rather exhausted Van Gogh with sunken cheeks and bloodshot eyes. He’s obviously still waiting for his wound to heal. The large bandage over his injured ear indicates that his wound is quite deep. On the other hand, doctor Felix states that he has some kind of infection in his ear. So much so that the bandage is already tied around his head, under his chin, and directly on his body. In the second canvas “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ears”, Van Gogh wore the same clothes. But this time the bandage is smaller. The artist exhibits a healthier stance in general. The colors of the picture are calmer and brighter. This makes the work look more optimistic. This painting may have been completed just before Van Gogh had it dressed for the last time. Yet he still felt bad. In a letter dated January 17, 1889, he used the following expressions: “I feel weak and a little anxious and fearful.”