Auntie Doris’s Great Works of Art #1: Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889


Imagine cutting off your own ear. That’s a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face in my book. Not that I know anybody who actually did anything like that. Although my Raymond had one of those little nubs of skin growing out of his neck once and he went and cut it off with some nail clippers. What a commotion he made over that. Screaming and yelling and carrying on, anyone would have thought that he had cut his ruddy head off (although come to think of it, he wouldn’t have been able to kick up such a fuss if he had done that.) Any road, he had to take some Anadin and go for a long lie down afterwards. I wouldn’t have bothered cutting it off in the first place. It was only a tiny little thing. But he always did have a vain streak in him, my Raymond.
The Lord alone knows what Van Gogh was doing, cutting off his ear. Some people say he didn’t cut it off at all, that he lost it in a fight with his flatmate Paul Gauguin, who was another one of them painters. I don’t see it myself. If he had been living with Mike Tyson, or whatever mad boxers they had in the South of France in the1880s, I might have believed it, but artists don’t get into fights like that, do they? Artists are more prone to the dramatic gesture, like cutting bits off themselves and giving them to women.
Apparently, that’s what Van Gogh did with his ear. He took it around to the red light district and gave it to a prostitute. She probably wasn’t very impressed. Those sorts of women generally work on a strictly cash only basis. If everyone started trying to pay with body parts, she would have no room in the fridge for ordinary stuff. Besides, what was she supposed to do with it? She could feed it to her dog, but it wouldn’t fill it up for very long.
So she sent him packing with a flea in his ear. His other ear,  the hole where the one that he’d cut off had been was still pouring with blood. When he got home, Gauguin was nowhere to be seen. He had decided that he was better off out of it, and I don’t blame him. You can’t go living with people who cut off their ears and stuff like that. Whatever would he think of next? He would never be able to enjoy a full English breakfast in that house again.
Any road, the story earned Van Gogh a bit of fame, and he managed to sell a few self portraits of himself with the bandages on, so it kept food on the table for him. He did a few portraits like that. This is the most famous one where he actually still looks badly with it, but there are others where he looks a bit more cheerful and is smiling or smoking a pipe, or both.
I suppose it made a change from doing paintings of ruddy flowers and chairs any road.

2 thoughts on “Auntie Doris’s Great Works of Art #1: Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889

  1. Auntie, I’m open-mouthed with amazement — not a pretty sight — over the variety of topics that appeal to your mad genius. I’ll never look at a Van Gogh painting the same way again; can’t say if that’s a good or bad thing.

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