November 1, 2016 2:44 pm

New theory emerges about why Van Gogh cut off his ear

WATCH: What was the motivation behind the most famous act of self-mutilation in the history of art?


A London-based art historian says it probably wasn’t a fight with another artist that led Vincent Van Gogh to cut off his ear. It was his brother’s whirlwind romance.

It is popular belief that the Dutch painter took a razor to his ear after an argument with fellow artist Paul Gauguin.

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But a new theory bolsters the idea that Van Gogh’s infamous mutilation may have been provoked by the news of his brother’s engagement. In the fear of being left alone, penniless, and cut off from his brother’s financial support, Van Gogh sliced off his ear.

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“Vincent feared that he would then ‘lose’ Theo, his closest companion,” Martin Bailey, an art historian and art corespondent for The Art Newspaper wrote in his new book, Studio of the South.

“He was equally worried that his brother might withdraw the financial support which had enabled him to devote his life to art. All this was threatened by the unexpected appearance of a fiancée.”

Bailey claims his new book has evidence — including previously unpublished family letters — which proves Van Gogh learned of his brother’s news in a letter from Theo that was delivered on the same day the painter used a razor to cut off his ear: Dec. 23, 1888.

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The art historian argues that Van Gogh didn’t learn of the engagement while he was recovering in hospital, as previously thought.  Van Gogh’s self-inflicted wound is generally thought to be the aftermath of a fight with Gauguin.

“Vincent van Gogh cut off his left ear when tempers flared with Paul Gauguin, the artist with whom he had been working for a while in Arles,” the Van Gogh Museum’s website writes.

Previous scholarly research had assumed that Van Gogh learned of his brother’s engagement with Johanna Bonger after his self-mutilation.

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