Van Gogh's Vexations: Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1888-1889)
By Gene Openshaw
|Van Gogh's self-portrait gives new meaning to the term "struggling artist."|
The night of December 23, 1888, Vincent van Gogh went ballistic. Drunk, self-doubting, clinically insane, and enraged at his friend Gauguin's smug superiority, he waved a knife in Gauguin's face, then cut off a piece of his own ear and gave it to a prostitute. Gauguin hightailed it back to Paris, and the locals in Arles persuaded the mad Dutchman to get help. A week later, just released from the hospital, Vincent stood in front of a blank canvas and looked at himself in the mirror.
What he saw looking back was a calm man with an unflinching gaze, dressed in a heavy coat (painted with thick, vertical strokes of blue and green) and fur-lined hat. The slightly stained bandage over his ear is neither hidden in shame nor worn as a badge of honor-it's just another accessory. The scene is evenly lit with no melodramatic shadows.
Vincent must have been puzzled and unnerved by his "artist's fit," as he called it. Does this man suspect it was only the first of many he'd suffer over the next year and a half before finally taking his own life?
This painting is on display at the Courtauld Institute Gallery in London.