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Lesson Plans

Re: Van Gogh's ear

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Mon, 05 Oct 1998 13:04:32 -0500

At 08:55 AM 10/3/98 -0400, San D wrote:
>I understood the story to be that he cut off his ear and sent it to the
>prostitute that rejected him. He was obsessed with her (Van
>Gogh-obsessed? go figure?), and she didn't want have anything to do with
>him, so he wanted her to have a part of him, both literally and

Well, I have been trying to hold my tongue since this thread started but,
alas, I have lost the argument with myself, so against my better judgment, a
few comments follow.......

The history or art is littered with so many myths and stories which may (or
may not) have elements of truth to them, and the ear of Van Gogh is
certainly one good example. Unfortunately, none of us will know for sure why
or how it was removed. One will question his mental state at the time that
the deed was done and he seems to have been alone at the time. Art
historians, art marketers and writers have, on occasion, been known to claim
creative licence when facts and records can not be located to support their
stories. Such may well have been the case of Van Gogh. Certainly the "wild
and crazy" picture they have painted of this man has been profitable to
their interests.

On the other hand......

I can remember a lecture by one of my art history instructors at Kansas
State back in the early 70s where the professor suggested that the whole
thing with Van Gogh's ear had gotten out of hand. Her position was that the
artist exhibited all of the symptoms of epilepsy in an age when that illness
was not understood by the public or by medical professionals. Public
condemnation and the suffering of frequent attacks of motor, sensory, or
psychic malfunction with or without unconsciousness or convulsive movements
would have been enough to drive one insane and this may well have been the
situation for Van Gogh. The professor pointed out that the ear may have
been severed by accident during a seizure, kitchen knife in hand, while
preparing a meal. Of course this scenario doesn't play as well as a madman
whacking it off to send it to the " prostitute that rejected him".

Unfortunately, aside from his works and letters to Theo, I have seen little
to substantiate any of the stories.