by Tash Cowley
Van Gogh pipe by Jeremy Lewis
Fans of van Gogh will know of Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear; but do they all agree on which ear was afflicted, the method of removal, who received it, and just how much flesh was torn asunder?
In One Ear, and
Out the Other
Separating tall tales from truth in the case of van Gogh’s ill-fated ear.
Avid admirers of Vincent van Gogh could no doubt describe Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear in great detail. He sits in solemn contemplation, a thick blue cap concealing his now infamous red hair. Penetrating, still blue eyes gaze out from a hauntingly gaunt face. An open window, a Japanese print, and a canvas on an easel wait patiently behind him. And, as the work’s title suggests, a bandage swaddles his ear. Which ear, you ask? That, to this day, is a hotly debated detail. van Gogh gifted us with an extraordinary insight into his artistic process and psychological state; a swathe of hand-written letters between himself and correspondents deftly piece together the pivotal details of his life. However, conflicting witness accounts (alongside the impishly perplexing self-portrait) have planted seeds of doubt regarding the specifics of his notorious self-mutilation. Not only do we doubt which ear was chosen for the razor-blade guillotine, but we are also left questioning how much was removed, who removed it, and who received the bloody reward after the fact. One thing is certain; people are still hunting for the truth, and are keeping their ears to the ground for clues to this day.
Read the full article in the print edition of Issue No.7!
Issue No.7 features in-depth interview with artists and arts organizations across 10 cities.