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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Self-Portrait ‘Mutilated Ear'” by Vincent van Gogh

"Self-Portrait 'Mutilated Ear'" by Vincent van Gogh

“Self-portrait ‘Mutilated Ear'”

by Vincent van Gogh

“Self-portrait ‘Mutilated Ear'” by Vincent van Gogh shows Van Gogh after a confrontation with Gauguin in which with a razor, Van Gogh in a rage severed part of his left ear.  Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, and he often neglected his physical health and drank heavily.

The exact sequence of events which led to Van Gogh’s mutilation of his ear is not known. This self-portrait shows his mutilated ear and following this incident, his friendship with Gauguin ended and he spent time in a psychiatric hospital. After he discharged himself and moved nearer to Paris, and came under the care of the homoeopathic doctor. His depression continued, and in 1890, Van Gogh was shot in the chest with a revolver. He died from his injuries two days later.

This painting was acquired by the museum in 1910 and was initially rejected by scholars and technical researchers; however, provenance research by the museums counter these adverse claims, and the debate continues.

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime and was considered a madman and a failure. He created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life. They were characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art.

Facts about Vincent van Gogh

  • Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands
  • Initially, van Gogh planned to be a pastor and worked as a lay preacher in Belgium. It was only on being let go from this job that he decided that his future lay in painting.
  • Van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was 27 years old.
  • Van Gogh never received any formal art training.
  • Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, worked in an art gallery and introduced van Gogh to many artworks.
  • Van Gogh visited many parts of Europe including Netherlands, France, Belgium and England.
  • Japanese woodblock prints profoundly influenced Van Gogh. He collected pictures of Japanese woodblock prints, and he practised making copies.
  • Van Gogh had several close relationships with many fellow artists, including Paul Gaugin and Emile Bernard.
  • Van Gogh artistic career was only ten years.
  • Van Gogh was a prolific letter writer, especially to his brother.
  • He created over 900 paintings plus many more drawings and sketches.
  • He died at the age of 37
  • As a poor artist, van Gogh didn’t have money to pay for models, so he painted himself instead. He created hundreds of self-portraits.
  • Van Gogh considered himself and many of his paintings to be failures.
  • Van Gogh cut off his ear in 1888.
  • Experts believe that that Gaugin cut off Van Gogh’s ear, following a violent dispute and that they both conspired to blame it on van Gogh so that Gaugin would not be jailed.
  • Van Gogh wrapped up his removed ear and gave it to a prostitute in a nearby brothel.
  • Van Gogh suffered mental health challenges for many years, and in 1889 he voluntarily admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy.
  • Van Gogh spent a year in the hospital, from which he created some of his most well-known paintings.
  • Van Gogh spent his adult life in poverty, surviving on cheap food. His diet consisted mainly of bread and coffee; he drank alcohol excessively and always had his pipe in hand.
  • After leaving the asylum, Van Gogh’s mental health continued to deteriorate, and in 1890, he shot himself in the chest. He died two days later.
  • There is speculation that Van Gogh did not shoot himself but that he was shot in a prank that went wrong. Van Gogh protected the identity of who shot him, by claiming that he shot himself.
  • Only 37 years old when he died, he had just sold one painting in his lifetime.
  • On his deathbed, van Gogh’s last words to his brother were “the sadness will last forever”.
  • Van Gogh’s brother died very soon after Van Gogh’s death.

Reflections

  • What is he thinking?
  • Is this painting a genuine Van Gogh?

Self-Portrait ‘Mutilated Ear’

  • Title:                Self-Portrait ‘Mutilated Ear’
  • Alternative:     Self-portrait ‘à l’oreille mutilé’
  • Artist:              Vincent Willem van Gogh
  • Created:          1889
  • Material:         oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   55.5 × 45 cm (1.8 × 1.4 ft)
  • Museum:        National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design – Norway

Vincent van Gogh

  • Name:                 Vincent Willem van Gogh
  • Born:                   1853 – Zundert, Netherlands
  • Died:                   1890 (aged 37) – Auvers-sur-Oise, France
  • Resting place:      Cimetière d’Auvers-sur-Oise, Auvers-sur-Oise, France
  • Nationality:         Dutch
  • Movement:         Post-Impressionism
  • Notable works:

Explore the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design – Norway

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“Straight ahead is shortest, but not always easiest.”
– Norwegian Proverb

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Photo Credit: Vincent van Gogh [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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