Tuesday, May 5, 2009
By the Sword
Ah, just when I thought there was nothing left to uncover about your life Vincent, another tale surfaces. A woman, another painter (who happened to be an excellent fencer)and a story of love and honor. Read on from Britain's Daily Mail:
(May 4) - For more than a century, Vincent Van Gogh has been known as the tortured genius who sliced off his own ear in a fit of madness. But a new study claims Paul Gauguin lopped off the organ with a sword as the two artists argued over a prostitute.
In a new book, German art historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans contend Van Gogh let everyone think he had mutilated himself in order to protect Gauguin from prosecution, Britain's Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph reported Monday.
The generally accepted story is that Van Gogh, the Dutch impressionist famed for works such as 'Sunflowers' and 'Starry Night,' slashed off his ear with a razor in Arles, France, on Dec. 23, 1888. He was then said to have wrapped it a cloth and presented it to a prostitute at a local brothel.
'Van Gogh's Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence' contends Van Gogh and Gauguin got into an argument over a prostitute named Rachel outside the brothel where she worked. Gauguin, an excellent fencer, drew his sword and cut off Van Gogh's left ear.
"The left ear fell. We cannot say if it was deliberate or an accident. In this situation, the protagonists vowed to keep silent. Then Gauguin disappeared, abandoning his friend," Kaufmann said, according to the Daily Mall.
Gauguin, according to the book, dumped the sword in the nearby Rhone River. Van Gogh handed the severed ear to the prostitute and then staggered home, where police found the injured artist the next day. Van Gogh did not give the police any information and ended up letting them think he had mutilated himself.
Gauguin kept silent because he didn’t want to face charges and Van Gogh didn’t tell because he was infatuated with Gauguin, the book says.
"Subsequent behavior and numerous allusions by the protagonists suggest they were hiding the truth," Kaufmann told French newspaper Le Figaro.
Based on their correspondence, it's likely Van Gogh's brother, Theo, knew the truth but also kept silent, the book says.
"[Van Gogh] writes that it's lucky Gauguin doesn't have a machine gun or other firearms, that he's stronger than him and that his 'passions' are stronger," Kaufmann told the Daily Telegraph.
Two years after losing his ears, Van Gogh, at the age of 37, shot himself. In his final recorded words to Gauguin, he wrote: "You are quiet, I will be, too."
The year after Van Gogh'ss suicide, Gauguin traveled to Tahiti, where he painted several of his best-known works. He died of a stroke in French Polynesia in 1903.