Try this trick at your next party: Ask each of your friends to name two things they know about Vincent van Gogh. Chances are, at least half of your friends will know about Starry Night by van Gogh. A few may know about the van Gogh sunflowers series. But nearly all of them will likely tell you that van Gogh cut off his own ear over a love affair with a prostitute. This has been the accepted story line for many, many years. Oftentimes, this is referenced in art history books when students are learning about the many van Gogh self-portraits he painted with a bandaged ear. Historians disagree with this conventional story, however. In fact, many historians suggest the truth about van Gogh's ear is much harder to come by.

In May of 2009, two German researchers claimed that van Gogh's ear was actually cut off by the painter Paul Gauguin, and the two artists agreed to keep quiet about the incident. The researchers base this theory on police records from the time, as well as letters written by van Gogh. Gauguin and van Gogh had a tumultuous relationship, and fought frequently while they lived together in 1888 in Arles. Gauguin was a talented swordsman, and kept swords around the house. It would make sense, then, that an argument would go one step too far and someone would get hurt. It is known that Gauguin left Arles shortly after van Gogh was injured, and this would seem to confirm Gauguin's guilt. The curators at the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam disagree with this theory, however, and still support the idea that van Gogh cut off his own ear.

In December of 2009, a British researcher claimed to have found the final answer. This researcher studied van Gogh's Still Life: Drawing Board with Onions, completed one month after van Gogh's ear was cut. A letter is prominently displayed in this painting. The researcher suggests that the postmark on this letter indicates that the letter is from Theo, Vincent's brother. Theo told Vincent, during this time, that he was to be married. The researcher suggests that Vincent became depressed at this news, mutilated himself and placed the letter in this painting as a sort of explanation.

It is, of course, impossible to know what happened to van Gogh's ear. Studying van Gogh paintings can give insight into what the painter thought and felt, and provide clues to his mental state at the time, but all the characters involved in this incident have long since died. One thing is clear: the Vincent van Gogh biography continues to hold appeal for scholars, who would like to tease out how depression and creative genius complement and thwart one another. And viewers continue to be amazed and impressed with van Gogh paintings, no matter how they were generated.

Study our collection of van Gogh paintings. We have many self-portraits by van Gogh, as well as landscapes, still-life paintings and more. If you like the style of van Gogh paintings but don't find an image you like, our artists can create a painting in van Gogh's style using any image you choose. Just contact us and we'll show you how easy it can be to own your own oil painting.