Vincent van Gogh Never Cut Off His Ear – The Truth is Better

Truth Revealed in Upcoming Play and Film: Starry Night

by Joe Moody
Author, Starry Night


Vincent with bandaged ear and word, Myth BustedSelf-Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent van Gogh, January, 1889. Courtesy Wikipedia.

One of the first “facts” we learn about art history is that Vincent van Gogh chopped off his ear in a fit of psychotic passion. Well, it’s time to put that story in the same category as the Tooth Fairy.

Vincent did lose part of his ear, but historians have discovered he didn’t do it to himself. In fact, the real reason makes a lot more sense…

Historians figured this out over a decade ago, but nobody wants to change the tragically romantic narrative, until now…

I Always Knew Something Was “Off” About the Official Story

Over a decade ago, Vincent’s work inspired me to write a play about him. But I never finished it because the tragic ending just didn’t seem right.

Turn outs, it most likely wasn’t…

Vincent was thriving in the most prolific period of his artistic life when a bullet hit him in the abdomen and he died slowly due to lack of antibiotics (full story). But here, we’re focusing on the first myth to dispell about his life: the severed ear.

Has anyone cut off their ear in a fit of passion before? Has anyone done it since (unless copying Vincent)? No, and that’s our first clue…

The Old Myth

Just before Christmas in 1888, Vincent had a fight with his artist friend, Paul Gauguin. Blinded by rage, he took out a razor blade and cut off part of his left ear.

Adding to the drama, there’s a prostitute involved, and the story continues that Vincent wrapped his severed ear in a cloth, headed down to the local brothel to gave it to a prostitute. What better way to impress a woman, right? (maybe I’ll add this to my secrets of attraction tips…)

But seriously, it was supposedly the French who picked up this story and ran with it. The world of art history would never be the same.

After more than a century, two German scholars dived into records and sources close to the event, including old police records, Vincent’s letters, and accounts from ancestors of the villagers who were actually there.

The Truth … which relates to Vincent’s selfless nature

Vincent loved his friendship with Paul Gauguin. Paul was a talented and dynamic artist who spent nine months with Vincent as they revolutionized art in the South of France.

Historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans place this period of Vincent’s under the power of the modern microscope, and were surprised.

”We carefully re-examined witness accounts and letters written by both artists,” Kaufmann told ABC news. “We came to the conclusion that van Gogh was terribly upset over Gauguin’s plan to go back to Paris, after the two men had spent an unhappy stay together at the ‘Yellow House’ in Arles, Southern France, which had been set up as a studio in the South.”

Just two days before Christmas, Paul announced he was leaving for Paris, which upset Vincent greatly. They got into a heated argument outside a brothel where Vincent perhaps attacked Paul. Paul, known as a skilled fencer, able to wield a blade with both precision and force. The historians believe Paul drew his weapon outside the brothel, and severed a portion of Vincent’s left ear.

The two men made a “pact of silence,” according to historians, because Vincent was endeared to his friend Paul, and didn’t want to see him get into trouble.

Kaufmann said they do accept the possibility it was an accident. “We do not know for sure if the blow was an accident or a deliberate attempt to injure van Gogh, but it was dark and we suspect that Gauguin did not intend to hit his friend.”

Resistance to Changing the Narrative

Not surprisingly, some in the academic community don’t want to change the storyline. After all, they’ve been teaching the story their whole lives.

But that’s the problem with academia, they get stuck in a story and don’t want to change it because they might look “off” later. So, they’ll go to great lengths to try to cast doubt on anything that challenges the status quo, rather than look at all sides with an open mind.

But the arts, unlike academia, can be bold, can change stories and dispell illusions. In the arts, such radical epiphanies are celebrated.

The Arts Shape Culture, So We’ll Reveal the Truth There

What is the only way to change peoples minds? It isn’t in the history books. Those only record what happened. What determines the zeitgeist is the arts — books, movies, music, paintings, dance, sculpture, the creative side of architecture.

I’m actually shocked that the recent artistic expressions of Vincent still cling to the old myths.

Historians wrote their book, but nobody seems to care, or maybe it’s just that most people haven’t been aware… After all, shouldn’t we tell the more likely truth about the artist the world has come to adore?

Thus, the best way to change the narrative of an artist is through the arts.

After the pandemic swept the world, I launched back into my play about Vincent that I started years ago. The immersive exhibits selling out all over the globe are a definite sign people want Vincent in their lives during this dark time.

Once I began my work, I discovered these new findings about Vincent’s life that were unknown when I first began the play.

I was grateful I hadn’t finished the play years ago, because it told the old narrative. Now, I could reveal a more accurate version of Vincent’s story.

“Starry Night” — A Play about Vincent van Gogh

The author at left. At right, the script that reimagines the life of Vincent van Gogh (author photos).

I finished the play, Starry Night, which is a “modern dream” revealing a more enlightened story of Vincent — how he changed the art world, then lost his ear, and then his life. But this is a comedy, for it brings us to a point of redemption.

After finishing the script, I began a search for actors to play the roles. Through serendipity, the perfect people just seemed to show up for each role.

Presenting the Starry Nighters

Cast of Starry Night
The “Starry Nighters” are a new troupe about to shatter myths about the world’s favorite painter, Vincent van Gogh.

In the quaint beach town on the coast of Lake Michigan, The Starry Night Players will reveal the truth about Vincent’s life.

Vincent, we hope you’re watching from behind a swirling star above… ?

Follow the Revolution as it happens…

Starrt Night on stage
Photo by the author.

Behind the scenes of the production are here?