Vincent van Gogh
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, 1889, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom.
Vincent van Gogh created many self-portraits during his lifetime. In most cases Van Gogh’s self-portraits are depicting the face as it appeared in the mirror he used to reproduce his face, i.e. his right side in the image is in reality the left side of his face.
This portrait brilliantly illustrates it. It was painted in January of 1889 just weeks after part of Van Gogh’s ear was cut off. His right ear is bandaged in the portrait though in reality the wound was to his left ear.
The precise chain of events that led to the celebrated incident of van Gogh slicing off his ear is not known reliably in detail. It is said he cut off his own earlobe following a violent argument with fellow painter Paul Gauguin. The only account attesting a supposed razor attack on Gauguin comes from Gauguin himself some fifteen years later, and biographers agree this account must be considered unreliable and self-serving. It does seem likely, however, that by 23 December 1888 van Gogh had realised that Gauguin was proposing to leave and that there had been some kind of dispute between the two. That evening van Gogh severed his left ear (wholly or in part, accounts differ) with a razor, causing a severe haemorrhage. He bandaged his wound and then wrapped the ear in paper and delivered the package to a brothel frequented by both him and Gauguin before returning home and collapsing. He was found unconscious the next day by the police and taken to hospital. The local newspaper reported that van Gogh had given the ear to a prostitute with an instruction to guard it carefully.