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(shown as was the reality: the left ear was the bandaged ear)
Other Self-Portraits of Van Gogh [click on an image to enlarge]
with bandaged earwith pipe and bandaged ear

     In the most limited definition of the term, Impressionism as the objective study of light did not encourage so essentially a subjective study as the self-portrait but in the later expansion of the movement this self-representation was given renewed force by Cézanne and van Gogh. The latter has often been compared with Rembrandt in the number and expressiveness of his self-portraits but while Rembrandt's were distributed through a lifetime, van Gogh produced some thirty in all in the short space of five years — from the end of the Brabant period (1885) to the last year of his life at Saint–Rémy and Auvers. In each there is the same extraordinary intensity of expression concentrated in the eyes but otherwise there is a considerable variety. From the Paris period onwards he used different adaptations of Impressionist and Neoimpressionist brushwork, separate patches of color being applied with varying thickness and direction in a way that makes each painting a fresh experience.

    Vincent van Gogh moved to Arles in early 1888 for a number of reasons. Weary of the frenetic energy of Paris and the long months of winter, Van Gogh sought the warm sun of Provence. Another motivation was Vincent's dream of establishing a kind of artists' commune in Arles where his comrades in Paris would seek refuge and where they would work together and support each other toward a common goal. Van Gogh took the train from Paris to Arles on 20 February 1888 heartened by his dreams for a prosperous future and amused by the passing landscape which he felt looked more and more Japanese the further south he traveled.

In Arles Vincent began to paint some of the best loved works of his career. Note the two complimentary works: the drawing Landscape with Path and Pollard Trees and the painting Path through a Field with Willows. The drawing was produced in March and the trees and landscape appear somewhat bleak after winter. The painting, however, executed a month later shows the very first spring buds on the trees. During this time Van Gogh painted a series of blossoming orchards. Vincent was pleased with his productivity and, like the orchards, felt renewed.

Vincent worked diligently throughout the spring and summer and began to send shipments of his works to his brother Theo. Van Gogh did his best during these months to make friends — both for companionship and also to pose as much valued models. Although deeply lonely at times, Vincent did make friends with Paul-Eugène Milliet and another Zouave soldier and painted their portraits. Vincent never lost hope in the prospect of establishing the artists' commune and began a campaign to encourage Paul Gauguin to join him in the south.

Vincent spent a disproportionate amount of his money on art supplies instead of the basic necessities of life. Malnourished and overworked, Van Gogh saw his health decline in early October, but he was heartened when Gauguin arrived in Arles by train early on 23 October.

Initially Van Gogh and Gauguin got on well together, painting on the outskirts of Arles, discussing their art and differing techniques. As the weeks passed, however, the weather deteriorated and the pair found themselves compelled to stay indoors more and more frequently. As always, Vincent's temperament (and most likely Gauguin's as well) fluctuated to match the weather. Though forced to work indoors, Vincent was stimulated by a series of portraits he undertook. "I have made portraits of a whole family . . . ." he wrote to Theo (Letter 560). Those paintings, of the Roulin family, remain among his best loved works.

The relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin deteriorated throughout December, however. Their heated arguments became more and more frequent — "electric" as Vincent would describe them. Relations between the pair declined in tandem with Vincent's state of mental health.

On 23 December 1888 Vincent van Gogh, in an irrational fit of madness, mutilated the lower portion of his left ear. He severed the lobe with a razor, wrapped it in cloth and then took it to a brothel and presented it to one of the women there. Vincent then staggered back home where he collapsed.

Vincent van Gogh was discovered by the police and hospitalized at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Arles. After sending a telegram to Theo, Gauguin left immediately for Paris, choosing not to visit Van Gogh in the hospital. Van Gogh and Gauguin would later correspond from time to time, but would never meet in person again.

During his time in the hospital, Vincent was under the care of Dr. Felix Rey (1867-1932). The week following the ear mutilation was critical for Van Gogh — both mentally and physically. He had suffered a great deal of blood loss and continued to suffer serious attacks in which he was incapacitated.