On December 23rd 1888, in what has become known as one of the more bizarre acts by artists (a feat hard to achieve), acclaimed 19th century artist Vincent Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his ear. The act was by no means a form of art, though given postmodern art this would not be surprising. Rather, it was Van Gogh’s act of desperation in light of a deteriorating relationship with friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin.
The friendship between Van Gogh and Gauguin was short lived, only lasting two years, but it seems that it was one that inspired Van Gogh. The two artists spent some time in Paris in 1887 and after a short absence, they met again in Arles during 1888. After an art exhibit of December of 1888, Gauguin and Van Gogh began to fight constantly about art and their views. While both artists are often classified as Post-Impressionists, there is a notable difference between the art of Van Gogh and Gauguin, and so their differing views on art are not without merit.
It is definitely possible that their shared bouts of depressions are what caused them to become friends in the first place, along with their mutual love for art of course. Both became depressed at different intervals, and it was during one of these bouts that Van Gogh began to stalk Gauguin, after one of their arguments. Using a razor, Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear, wrapped it in newspaper, and gave it to a prostitute named Rachel, saying that she must “keep this object carefully.” Nevertheless, due to their torn friendship, Gauguin left Arles, and the two artists were never friends again.
Following the incident, Van Gogh began to suffer from hallucinations and paranoia, eventually being admitted to a mental hospital in Saint-Remy, outside of Arles. He was admitted out in 1890 for an art exhibit where he was recognised as a genius. However his continuing depression led him to shoot himself in a field. He died two days later in bed, reportedly exclaiming the last words: “the sadness will last forever.”