He is known as the tortured genius who cut off his own ear as he struggled with mental illness after the breakdown of his friendship with a fellow artist. But a new study claims Vincent Van Gogh may have made up the story to protect painter Paul Gauguin who actually lopped it off with a sword during an argument. German art historians say the true version of events never surfaced as the two men both kept a “pact of silence” – Gauguin to avoid prosecution and Van Gogh in a vain attempt to keep a friend with whom he was hopelessly infatuated.
In Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans claim it was the sword attack, not Van Gogh’s madness, that led him to commit suicide two years later. The prevailing theory is that the Dutchman, who painted Sunflowers and the Potato Eaters, almost bled to death after slashing his own ear with a razor in a fit of lunacy on the night of December 23, 1888.
He is said to have wrapped it in cloth and handed it to a prostitute in a nearby brothel.
However, the new work from experts in Hamburg offers a very different version.
Gauguin, an excellent fencer, was planning to leave Van Gogh’s “Yellow House” in Arles, southwestern France, after an unhappy stay. He had walked out of the house with his baggage and his trusty épée in hand, but was followed by the troubled Van Gogh, who had earlier thrown a glass at him. As the pair approached a bordello, their row intensified, and Gauguin cut off Van Gogh’s left earlobe with his sword – either in anger or self-defence.