Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 12:12 UK

Gauguin 'cut off Van Gogh's ear'

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90), Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889, Oil on canvas, 60 x 49 cm. Copyright: Courtauld Institute
Van Gogh famously painted a self-portrait with his ear bandaged

Vincent van Gogh did not cut off his own ear but lost it in a fight with fellow artist Paul Gauguin in a row outside a brothel, it has been claimed.

It has long been accepted that the mentally ill Dutch painter cut off his own ear with a razor after the row in Arles, southern France, in 1888.

But a new book, based on the original police investigation, claims Gauguin swiped Van Gogh's ear with a sword.

The authors argue the official version of events contains inconsistencies.

Witness statements

The book, titled In Van Gogh's Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence, is the product of 10 years of research by German academics Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans.

They looked at witness accounts and letters sent by the two artists, concluding that the row ended with Gauguin - a keen fencer - cutting his friend's ear off.

Van Gogh then apparently wrapped it in cloth and handed it to a prostitute, called Rachel.

Mr Kaufmann said it was not clear whether it was an accident or a deliberate attempt to injure Van Gogh, but afterwards both men agreed to tell the police the self-harm story to protect Gauguin.

He said the traditional version of events is based on contradictory and improbable evidence, and no independent witness statement exists.

"Gauguin was not present at the supposed self-mutilation," he told Le Figaro newspaper in France.

"As for Van Gogh, he didn't confirm anything. Their behaviour afterwards and various suggestions by the protagonists indicate they were hiding the truth."

Gauguin later moved to Tahiti, where he produced some of his most famous works. Van Gogh died in 1890 after shooting himself in the chest.



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