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Lend me your ear and I'll tell you a story: Van Gogh

Van Gogh<br />
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear<br />
1889<br />
Oil on canvas<br />
Courtauld Institute Galleries
Van Gogh Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear 1889 Oil on canvas Courtauld Institute Galleries

Traditionally Valentine’s Day is the day on which lovers express their love for one another by presenting flowers, candies, and cards. In the spirit of this holiday let us look at art history’s most bizarre gesture of love.

It has long been believed that the mentally ill van Gogh cut off his left earlobe with a razor in 1888 and presented it to his girlfriend, a prostitute named Rachel, telling her to“guard this object carefully”. Afterwards he stumbled back to his room falling asleep in a blood soaked bed which led to his admission to Saint Paul de Mausole asylum in Saint Remy.

Art historians have spent years reviewing police records and letters from van Gogh to his beloved brother Theo with no definitive answer about the true nature of the mutilation.

Speculations vary stating van Gogh’s madness was induced by absinthe, he suffered from lead poisoning from his paint, he contracted syphilis from prostitutes which caused the insanity, he was distraught when learning of his brother Theo’s engagement, and finally that he didn’t sever his own ear it was amputated during a sword fight with fellow painter and friend Gauguin.

Curators at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam stand by the theory of self-mutilation which is reported in the movie Van Gogh: Brush with Genius which can be seen at the Science Museum of Minnesota located in St. Paul, MN.

The film is narrated through letters written by van Gogh to his brother Theo revealing insight into his life including his bouts of insanity, descriptions of his paintings, and his painful obsession with color. Director François Bertrand approaches van Gogh's life and art from a number of angles – literally. He travels to the places van Gogh lived and painted, comparing real life with van Gogh’s works; the camera pans across actual landscapes and then moves to the corresponding canvas, inviting the audiences to discover the source of some of the most important works in art history.

Van Gogh: Brush with Genius  is definitely worth seeing, you will never see so many of van Gogh’s masterpieces in one place unless you visit Amsterdam.


  • Michael Martin 5 years ago

    I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create.
    Vincent Van Gogh

  • Carol Taylor 5 years ago

    great article. creative spin on the romantic valentine's day and a great artist - too bad about the ear though.

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