Description of the artwork «Self-portrait with bandaged ear and pipe»
Shortly before one of the most tragic incidents in Vincent’s life, he and Gauguin went to the traditional Arlesian entertainment — the Christmas bullfight. Van Gogh was very amazed by one rather cruel ritual: after a particularly masterful victory over the bull, the bullfighter was solemnly handed the cut off ear of the animal.
The relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin was very bad at that time. Despite the fact that living together became very productive for them in a creative way, they always swore and argued. Vincent’s periodic seizures, his untidiness and disgusting nature made life with him unbearable (his companion also wasn’t an angel, but he was far from Van Gogh). At Christmas, they had a big fight again, and Gauguin once again announced that he was leaving. During this quarrel, Vincent tried to attack him with a straight razor, however, he met a calm and cold look, so he was embarrassed and hid in his room...
He only stopped when he reached the artery, which caused severe bleeding. Further story is known: a bloody “gift” to a prostitute, the police, Gauguin’s hasty departure, a hospital and, finally, a psychiatric hospital. Vincent Van Gogh painted two Self-Portraits with a Bandaged Ear in a row — the wound healed pretty quickly (the second version). In both paintings, the artist is shaved and neat. Apparently, they were painted in the hospital. But here’s what distinguishes these self-portraits from earlier ones: a striking change in his look. From eternally alert, he turned into completely insane. He remembered little about the events of that Christmas evening. Only one thing was clear: the dream of an artistic commune turned to dust and ashes. This collapse of hopes was the last straw, the last and fatal blow to the remnants of Van Gogh’s mental health.
In July 2016, a new detail of this dark story was revealed. Thanks to Bernadette Murphy’s book “Van Gogh's Ear: A True Story”, the name of the woman to whom the artist presented his strange gift became known. Her name was Gabrielle Berlatier, and she really was a prostitute in a brothel that Vah Gogh often visited. As for the name Rachelle, mentioned in earlier sources, it was most likely the woman’s pseudonym.