Explaining Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear (Van Gogh Ear Story)

Explaining Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear (Van Gogh Ear Story)

Can you rate, on a scale of 0–10, how influential an artist can be?

8, 9, maybe 10 as well, right?

But you have to agree with me that no artist can be as influential as Vincent Van Gogh was, which is a 100!

The man has a song dedicated to one of his paintings and a separate museum in his name.

It’s no surprise that people are obsessed with Van Gogh’s work.

Whether it is The Starry Night, The Harvest, or Cafe Terrace at Night, we have seen Vincent do wonders with his hands.

Although he was suffering from a mental illness, it never came between his fame and work, except for one.

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There is one masterpiece that crossed his manic depression to heights.

A work that portrays the artist with chopped ears and a strange backstory to share.

Does this ring a bell?

I’m talking about “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.”

I don’t know how many of you are aware of this work but the tale I am about to unravel in front of you will definitely leave you stunned.

Get your ears up to hear unusual stories, because the artist doesn’t have any!

The Life of Vincent Van Gogh: The Unfortunate Man

Portrait of the artist Vincent Van Gogh
Image: britannica

The unfortunate man? The title itself has a lot to say about Vincent Van Gogh’s life!

But how unfortunate can he be?

Before discussing the art, let us learn about the life history of our renowned artist, Vincent Van Gogh.

Being a Post-Impressionist artist, his life was nothing but a roller coaster ride filled with tragedy and pain.

Financial hardships, relationship difficulties, and constant medical issues engulfed his whole life in one go.

Despite these setbacks, his passion for art never came to an end.

It grew with time and as we know, Van Gogh paintings are counted among the most recognized arts around the world.

Although he is renowned for his work today, he was not appreciated back then. 

It’s hard to believe but it’s a bitter truth.

Vincent used to have trouble finding a buyer for his work and almost relied on his brother’s financial support.

Paintings that are priceless in today’s time were once facing trouble finding a buyer.

Not only were his mental conditions deprived but he was also diagnosed with epilepsy and drinking habits.

His conversations mostly expressed sadness, isolation, and loneliness.

Why am I narrating his condition and feelings to you?

To understand “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear,” you must know the primary reason, right?

Yes, his illness was the main subject of the painting.

Let’s time travel back to 1888, when it all started!

Suggested read: Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Ear Incident: Why Did Van Gogh Cut His Ear Off?

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent Van Gogh
Image: wikimedia

Here comes the story that you were all waiting for.

December 1888 was a period when a controversy ran over the town of Arles.

The Christmas season became the narrative of a man who cut his ear off.

The biggest mystery was why!

The story began when Vincent moved to Arles in order to establish a studio for artists across the world.

He sent the invitation to the other painters but none of them showed up, except for one man.

Paul Gauguin, a French Post-Impressionist artist!

Van Gogh and Gauguin shared similar interests and even diseases.

They painted everything—the landscapes, people, still life and even each other.

"Portrait of Paul Gauguin" by Vincent Van Gogh and "Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers" by Paul Gauguin
Image: pinimg, micr

They were both growing at a great pace, embracing each other’s skills.

But God had other plans.

One fine evening, the two artists had a blazing row.

As no witness was present during their dispute, it was hard to know the exact conversation.

However, Van Gogh’s letter gives us a rough idea of what exactly happened.

The Incident Through Van Gogh’s Letter

Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh with his ears bleeding
Image: feminisminindia

Vincent Van Gogh narrates a “bad quarrel” between him and Paul Gauguin in his letter.

He mentioned that after the disagreement, Van Gogh “lost his mind” and offered the artist “his full heart” (his friendship).

Sadly, Gauguin was not interested in the proposal, which led to further arguments.

Reportedly, after the quarrel, Van Gogh felt disturbed and angry.

And we all know the result, which led to chopping off his ear.

During that time, he was enticed by a lady who worked as a maid in a brothel.

He walked towards the brothel and handed over his bloody ears, wrapped in paper, to the woman named Rachel.

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He stated, “Protect this object carefully.”

The statement sounds as if the object (ear) is fragile, just like his heart and mind.

It is considered that the ear-cutting episode was due to the disturbing relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin.

People also believed that Vincent took such a drastic step after the rejection of his love from the same lady, Rachel, at the brothel.

But do you know what we are missing?

His mental health!

Psychological Facts

Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh
Image: dailyartmagazine

We all know that Van Gogh was not mentally well.

He was dealing with anxiety, depression, psychiatric illness and bipolar disorder.

There is no doubt that the Van Gogh ear story can be a consequence of his mental episode.

You know what is the most difficult thing to study? A human brain.

Each person has a contrasting nature and that’s how we differ from each other.

From my point of view, the events that took place before the ear incident were nothing but a trigger for his psychiatric condition.

He was already struggling with epilepsy, and people had presumed that he had chopped off his ear during a seizure attack.

After this act, he was admitted to a hospital, where he experienced some hallucinations.

Why Van Gogh cut his ear became the most controversial topic during that time.

Although he had recovered physically, his brain was playing tricks.

After all, we are talking about the man who took his own life.

Suggested read: Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking A Cigarette

Another Painting within Painting

Japanese painting “Geishas in a Landscape” by Sato Torakiyo in Van Gogh ear art.
Image: wikimedia

Being in pain, miserable, and suffering with the worst mental state, Van Gogh’s love for art never died.

He was extremely fond of art in Japan.

The painting that you notice in the back is Japanese art.

The artwork is “Geishas in a Landscape by Sato Torakiyo.

Many Japanese artists inspired Vincent, especially Hokusai, the painter of “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.”

The interesting part about “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear” is that it reveals his obsession with Japanese art.

He once said that all his works are influenced by Japanese art.

Now that we are talking about influences, you’ve no idea how big this ear-cutting incident was taken by the entire world.

How about you witness it with your own eyes?

Ears All Over: To Conclude

Influence Van Gogh ear had on the world
Image: reddit, catawiki, artnet, aroundme, andersenssantabarbara

If you remember, I mentioned earlier how influential an artist can be?

Vincent Van Gogh has again proven that no one can be more influential than him.

I mean, just look at the image above. 

A man cut off his ear and it’s famous? Wow!

We all witness Van Gogh as one of the most famous portrait painters.

But have you wondered what made this painting so vast?

“Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear” validates how important art was in the life of Vincent.

Despite being in severe pain, art never left his side or mind.

He drew himself with the utmost care and released the art in the world to let people know his story.

The brushstroke, the powerful pointillism work, the use of colors, and the way he showed his bandaged ear, making it obvious for the viewer, are spectacular.

He started being recognized as a “painter who cut off ear” for his art.

One of the famous self-portraits for a reason!

Who doesn’t want to own Vincent’s one of a kind?

Make your vision come true with reproduction paintings. One click and Van Gogh is on the way to your home!

Hello, Van Gogh’s Lover!

I hope the Van Gogh story of ear reached you in the simplest way possible.

It was interesting to read, wasn’t it?

Mentally ill situations are scary. What if you turn into Vincent Van Gogh?

Jokes apart, it was still one of the hardest things to do.

Now here is a comment section below open for you all to give suggestions, feedback, and ask questions.

Let me hear your point of view on the “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear” painting.

Go ahead and write your opinion, which will surely be fascinating to read.

girl with pearl earring replica

I’ll be back with my next piece soon.

As I always say, till then, keep reading and exploring.

See ya!


Q. What does “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear” portray?

The painting represents the falling condition of Van Gogh’s mental and physical health.

Q. When was the Van Gogh ear painting created?

In 1889, Van Gogh created his “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear” painting.

Q. What is the theme of Van Gogh Ear artwork?

The theme of Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear depicts the horror and acceptance of what Vincent has done to himself.

Q. Where is Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear housed?

The Courtauld Gallery holds the artwork Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent Van Gogh.

Q. When did Van Gogh cut his ear off?

On December 23, 1888, Vincent chopped his ear off.

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