Challenging a popular theory that Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear after a passionate row with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, a new study suggests that the Dutch painter’s act of self-mutilation was actually prompted by the news of his brother Theo’s marriage.
It was known that Van Gogh was distressed by news of brother’s marriage -- which could have threatened the closeness of their relationship, and also left Theo with a wife and family to support, unable to fund a struggling brother who had yet to sell a single canvas -- but it had been thought that he learned of it only after the incident, the Guardian reported on Monday.
For his new book Studio of the South: Van Gogh in Provence, writer Martin Bailey has uncovered evidence that the painter almost certainly learnt of it in a letter from Theo delivered on December 23, 1888. The then 35-year-old painter took razor to his ear on the same night.
Theo’s letter enclosed 100 francs, but also carried the news that only a fortnight earlier he had met an old friend, Jo Bonger, who had previously turned him down. This time, within a week, she had agreed to marry him.
Bailey has established that Theo had already written to his mother asking permission to marry, and that Jo had written to her older brother, who responded with a telegram of congratulations that arrived on December 23, the report said.
Bailey believes that Theo would have written to his brother at the same time, and that the news was in the letter that was delivered to the famous Yellow House at Arles in Provence, France, also on the 23rd.