That Vincent’s ear was removed is not doubted especially as he presented the severed ear to an 18 year old Gabrielle Berlatier, a maid at his favourite brothel. One theory is that Vincent cut off his ear to give to Gabrielle thinking in some deluded way that it would make her feel better as she had been badly bitten by a dog! At the risk of making you feel even worse, it would appear that Vincent lost all of his ear: not a small slice as often reported. Below is a drawing done by Dr Felix Rey who attended Vincent following the severing of the ear. If the note is authentic there can be little doubt about this part of the story as the doctor has drawn the line of the cut.
There is however much argument about why Vincent cut off his ear and in fact whether someone else’s might have cut it off. I have read an account where the researchers argue that Vincent’s friend Gauguin cut off Vincent’s ear. Even though their friendship broke down immediately following the event, the story goes that they had a pact to keep the event of the severed ear a secret. If you look carefully at the painting above of Vincent with the bandage, notice the image of a painting on the wall behind him which to me looks a little Gauguinlike. Is Vincent sending a message to future audiences?
As we have been joined by a Scottish Subscriber (L of Edinburgh) I need to point out that the Allan Ramsay who painted the head (above) is a famous Scottish portrait painter also from Edinburgh but not the famous C18th Scottish painter also Allan Ramsay who lived and painted from 1713-1784. To see the works of a contemporary master please visit the site of Allan Ramsay and you will much about how to draw and paint heads.
I will conclude today with a couple more portraits by the contemporary artist Allan Ramsay. Study these carefully and you will gain a greater understanding of human facial features.
For those of you who want to improve your drawing of ears, here are a couple of sites that will help.
Another theory about Vincent's ear is that he cut it off when he heard that his brother Theo was engaged to be married. We do know that Vincent suffered from severe mental illness and that his friendship with Gauguin broke down about the same time as Theo became engaged. The perceived loss of these two important people in his life, especially Theo, would have contributed to his mental health issues.
If you would like to enjoy the self portraits done by Vincent that are in existence today please visit this site.