Have You Heard the New One About Van Gogh's Ear?

Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear
Vincent van Gogh's "Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear" (1889).

Vincent van Gogh, Still Life with a Plate of Onions
Detail from Vincent Van Gogh's "Still Life with a Plate of Onions" (1889) showing a letter dated December 1888, written by the artist's brother Theo; a new theory speculates it was the impetus for Vincent's self-dismemberment.
LONDON — For decades, art scholars have speculated as to why tortured genius Vincent van Gogh sliced off his own earlobe. Some experts attribute the incident to the Impressionist artist's having been poisoned by the lead in his paints, others have blamed it on a dispute with fellow artist Paul Gauguin over a prostitute, and still others believe he was just plain insane. The latest theory is that the artist's brother Theo pushed him over the edge, causing the already mentally disturbed individual to lop off his own ear.

The new explanation, proposed by author and curator Martin Bailey, was formulated after his methodical examination of Vincent van Gogh's painting Still Life with a Plate of Onions (1889). Bailey believes that a detail in the artwork, specifically a letter dated December 1888, is a clue deliberately included by the artist because of its significance in relation to the incident.

The still life painting was completed just a month after the ear injury. The letter was sent from Vincent's brother and art dealer Theo to announce his engagement to his girlfriend Johanna Bonger. Vincent depended upon Theo for emotional and financial support. The upcoming nuptials would have so disturbed the artist, says Bailey, that his brother's news could have easily led to an act of self-mutilation.

In another letter, Theo wrote to his fiancĂ©e: “When I mentioned you to [Vincent] he evidently knew who and what I meant and, when I asked whether he approved of our plans, he said marriage ought not to be regarded as the main object in life.” 

An exhibition at London's Royal Academy next month will feature the still life and center around Van Gogh's remarkable correspondence.

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters
January 23, 2010 - April 18, 2010 at the Royal Academy (London)


No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails