Some scholars are posthumously vindicating Vincent Van Gogh for, um, chopping off his own ear.

It's long been understood that Van Gogh, proverbial tortured artist that he was, lopped off his own ear in a fit of maddened anguish, although the causes thereof have always been debated. No! Say some scholars at Hamburg University. It was Gauguin!


According to Hans Kaufmann, the ear-chopping came as a result of an argument between the two artists over whether Gauguin would join an artist's colony the hapless Vincent was trying to get off the ground. Says the scholar to Le Figaro,

To get rid of Van Gogh, who was begging him to stay, Gauguin waved his weapon in the direction of the victim while they were in front of the house of ill repute. The left ear fell. We cannot say if it was deliberate or an accident. In this situation, the protagonists vowed to keep silent. Then Gauguin disappeared, abandoning his friend. The next day, the police questioned him. That's when he made up the theory about self-mutilation.

According to Van Gogh's Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence, which Kauffman penned with Rita Wildegans, there's evidence of a cover-up. Further, they argue that although the ensuing "pact of silence" kept Gauguin from jail, the fallout between the two men also led to Van Gogh's precipitate mental decline and eventual suicide. Scholars have suggested in the past the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two men; this hypothesis is certainly based on, at the very least, a strong attachment on Van Gogh's part. While it's a compelling narrative, it's not a theory that's likely to be generally accepted by scholars, given the lack of conclusive evidence. Says one Gauguin expert (who might, one supposes, take some umbrage at the allegations) "Perhaps they're right, but all the hypotheses are valid given the lack of material." As usual, the Daily Mail has the last word on the subject, stating inarguably, "The theory undermines the popular image of the tortured genius, whose painting "Starry Night" inspired a song by Don McLean."

Van Gogh's ear was cut off by friend Gauguin with a sword [Telegraph]
Van Gogh didn't cut off his ear - it was chopped off by Gauguin in a row over a woman, academics claim [Daily Mail]