Well, today’s the day! 122 years ago, in Arles, Gauguin and Van Gogh fell out, and Van Gogh mutilated himself. . This has to be one of the most famous incidents in art history.  I’d always assumed the details were well established…after a drunken disagreement, Van Gogh threatens Gauguin, who flees, after which Van Gogh severs part of his own ear and gives it to a prostitute called Rachel. The following day Gauguin is arrested, but released without charge. He then returns to Paris…and the two men never set eyes on each other again. So far, so well understood. But last year, two German historians - after pouring over the police records, testimonies, letters etc - made the claim that it was more likely to have been Gauguin who attacked Van Gogh… Well, he was (apparently) a gifted swordsman…after which G and V agreed to keep what actually happened between themselves…Does this seem credible? Whatever happened (and I think most people are agreed that Van Gogh injured himself), it will always strike me as a desparately sad story - a tragic end to a relationship that seemed pretty much doomed from the start, given the characters of the men involved! I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship over the last few days, knowing that this anniversary was coming up and (on a personal level) having recently fallen out with someone myself (not quite so spectacularly), which is sad…but sometimes unavoidable. But then again, maybe we should just be grateful for the incredible works of art that came out of G and V’s brief but dynamic collaboration? What do you think?? Btw - Happy Christmas and New Year!



I have a friend who had part of his ear severed during an, initially friendly, sabre duel whilst slightly the worse for drink, so it's easy to see how it can happen. Perhaps it's just a macho bloke thing that they found embarrassing afterwards and then fell out trying to think of a cover story?

It's trying to explain it at A&E that causes the problems...

And I think there is a salutory lesson to all those doing last minute shopping that giving away human body parts is really the last resort and not always welcome. Do we know if V gift wrapped it?

Merry Christmas and thanks for all you 2010 blogs.

deirdre mcardle

but haven't you heard (ha,no pun etc) there are no art historians now,because there is no history any more (it's thing of the past ,ha!) and there is no art,well OK a bit, but mostly people asking questions about what it should be,yes you could say it has always been that, but now not much answers any of its own questions in a non verbal way,aesthetic problems have become just as difficult as our scientific ones,our theological ones etc. We had a legacy from the stucturalists to deal with for a long time ( the attempted systemisations of the bleedin' semioticians for an example). (and I think Malevich might disagree with you on the last point too !)

deirdre mcardle

aaaaah,I see the young people are here! (or should I say !! )

deirdre mcardle

goodness Elli that is quite shocking,is art really the "top of the tree" as you suggest? what do think the difference between what Van Gough did to himself and say,Marina Abromovich cutting herself with knives?

B. L.

Of course the new theory is grounded on interpretation. Just read all the reliable documents of the period and, no doubt, you will be convinced that Vincent cut off his ear. Vincent himself says it and there is far more (doctors & so on). Forget the art historians they could persuade you that black is white.

deirdre mcardle

oh well, I may as well add . Existentialsim, (from whence structuralism blah blah)which has similarites with the arcane concept of 'the fall',puts man outside the normal projects of society ,can indeed deliver up new perspectives from its position of anarchy ( non- hierarchical idealism ?) Impossible of course because we MUST organise society ,but these erm,mechanisms of alienation reinvigorate,challenge what might otherwise stale. Giacometti said when he was knocked down by a car that he felt that something had actually happened to him for once !


I visited the Gauguin exhibition yesterday with my two teenage children and husband; we all found it interesting. I feel that Picasso must have been influenced by Gauguin (no doubt there is published work on this that, as I'm not an art historian, I'm not aware of) but in the sketch of one face from three perspectives, I could see some elements of Picasso's future work. And in the strange still lives with intruding unexpected faces. The thematic approach was pleasing accompanied as it was by clear biographical/historical lines in the two rooms on context. We had limited time so concentrated on the paintings themselves, but I would have liked to have spent more time too among the contextual documents and posters. Wonderful use of colour and shape. The details of his personal life are a bit of a turn off but then shouldn't the art stand for itself? The pictures are strangely innocent. I found the tea-towels and bags in the shop a bit comical and out of kilter with the art, but hopefully this makes money for the Tate.

deirdre mcardle

of course Giacometti might not have felt such middle class self indulgent alienation if he had been say ,a Chilean miner.Pragmatic opposition to society's erm,abuses,must surely mean we don't just want artists to muck about like rock stars any more ? But I guess they always have ! Tricky isn't it,celebrity culture; investment value; running an institution with integrity when it must also make money whether art school or public gallery; tricky.

Elli D.

I reckon, after considering all what you've written, that even though it was short yet powerful collaboration, it was worth all the events. It's not important who is to blame for Van Gogh's lost ear, the results and what anticipated the incident is important and beneficial for art.

Jon R.

Had Van Gough never lost his ear and these events never happened, I don' think Van Gough would be so well known today. It's hard to imagine, but I think losing his ear is directly correlated with him success.