For over a century, historians have come up with a number of theories for why legendary artist Vincent van Gogh cut off his own ear in late 1888 and gave it to a prostitute named Rachel.
The most accepted reason for why this happened was that van Gogh suffered a manic episode after getting in a fight with fellow artist Paul Gauguin.
However, new evidence has come out proving this story to be almost completely inaccurate. In his new book, ‘Studio of the South: Van Gogh in Provence,’ British van Gogh specialist Martin Bailey now claims that van Gogh sliced his ear off after learning that his brother Theo was engaged.
In the book, Bailey points to correspondences between family members from the Van Gogh Museum Archive tying Theo’s engagement to Jo Bonger to van Gogh cutting his ear off, as he most likely found out his brother was engaged from a letter he sent him that contained his regular allowance of 100 francs.
Historians assume that van Gogh was enraged by the engagement as from his point of view, it threatened their close relationship and also van Gogh’s allowance, as Theo was his only source of income and would now have to take on family responsibilities.
However, historians previously believed that he learned about the marriage after cutting his ear off, as the first record of the artist mentioning the union is a letter dated Jan. 19. This is why the fight with Gauguin is generally considered the trigger for the incident.
Now, historians believe that a mixture of his artistic collaborator and flatmate threatening to leave him for good and his brother’s engagement caused the emotional breakdown leading to his ear being sliced off.
“It was fear that pulled the trigger and led to the breakdown,” Bailey told CNN. “Fear of being abandoned in both an emotional and financial way.”
Along with new information about van Gogh cutting off his ear, the receiver of said ear wasn’t a prostitute named Rachel, but Gabrielle Berlatier, an 18-year-old maid at van Gogh’s favorite brothel.
Additionally in another new book by Bernadette Murphy entitled “Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story,” he included a drawing by the doctor who treated van Gogh’s wound that showed that van Gogh didn’t just cut off his earlobe, but almost the entire appendage, contradicting stories previously held.
For more information about Vincent van Gogh and these new discoveries visit cbsnews.com.