In December 1888, Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear. It is the most famous story about any artist in history. But what really happened on that dark winter night?
In Van Gogh's Ear, Bernadette Murphy reveals the truth. She takes us on an extraordinary journey from major museums to forgotten archives, vividly reconstructing Van Gogh's world. We meet police inspectors and café patrons, prostitutes and madams, his beloved brother Theo and fellow painter Paul Gauguin.
Why did Van Gogh commit such a brutal act? Who was the mysterious 'Rachel' to whom he presented his macabre gift? Did he really remove his entire ear? Murphy answers these important questions with her groundbreaking discoveries, offering a stunning portrait of an artist edging towards madness in his pursuit of excellence.
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This book has the pace of a detective novel, sending fresh blood pulsing through an old tale as Murphy recreates the heartbreaking drama of Van Gogh’s loosening grip on reality.
Murphy’s revelations are fascinating and add intriguing details to the great crisis of Van Gogh’s life.
Murphy’s book rescues the real Van Gogh from the lazy clichés of tea towel memorabilia by painting an electric, nuanced portrait of a man who achieved artistic brilliance despite his mental health issues and not because of them. In doing so, she allows for a version of his history in which her subject’s passion for life, art and humanity blooms like the sunflowers he painted.
She knows Provence with an intimacy that’s rare in the ear genre. Her descriptions of the people, their landscape, their customs are unusually detailed… Her second stand-out quality is a doggedness that goes beyond the usual art-historical drives. Relentlessly she wrestles with the book’s central mystery.
No one before has built up such a detailed picture of the people who surrounded the great artist.