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Drama at Arles new light on Van Gogh's self-mutilation.

It is the most well-known incident in art history. On 23 December 1888 Van Gogh severed part of his ear, abruptly ending his collaboration with Gauguin. Although the events of that night have become the stuff of legend, the facts are few. Martin Bailey pieces together the evidence for this tragic story, with the help of some major discoveries.

Vincent van Gogh was 'a stark, staring crank'. Contemporary descriptions of the artist by his friends are rare, and this example is published here for the first time in the original English. It comes from a letter written on 17 April 1888 by the American painter Dodge MacKnight (1860-1950), who was staying in the village of Fontvieille, ten kilometres north-east of Aries. He was writing to his Belgian artist friend Eugene Boch (1855-1941), who would shortly be joining him in Provence.

In the letter, MacKnight wrote that he had tracked down two artists in Aries, Christian Mourier-Petersen (1858-1945), a Dane, and 'Vincent--whom I had already met at Russell's--a stark, staring crank, but a good fellow.' (1) We also have Van Gogh's account of the encounter: he wrote--in English--to a mutual friend in Paris, the Australian artist John Russell (1858-1930), that 'last Sunday [15 April] I have met MacKnight and a Danish painter and I intend to go to see him at Fonvieille [sic] next Monday.' (2) He and MacKnight had differing opinions on modern art, and Van Gogh added: 'I feel sure I shall prefer him as an artist to what he is as an art critic[,] his views as such being so narrow that they make me smile.'

MacKnight's description of the artist is pithy--and rings true. Van Gogh inspired considerable loyalty and affection, although these qualities are all too often forgotten when we read of the rows that he had with friends. Yet he was also an awkward companion, with a cranky side to his character. On occasions, this expressed itself in most destructive ways, as Paul Gauguin would discover.

Gauguin joined Van Gogh in the Yellow House in Aries on 23 October 1888, and for two months they lived and worked under the same roof. There, they had intense discussions about art, and painted together, often tackling the

same subjects. But tensions quickly developed, and suddenly worsened in December. On 23 December 1888 Vincent severed part of his ear and presented it to a prostitute. Thus ended their collaboration.

Although the story looms large in all biographies of the two artists, there have been few serious attempts to analyse what occurred that night in Arles. (3) Some art historians may have felt the subject matter is simply too sensationalist to tackle, although understanding what happened is important in considering the works produced by the two artists during these difficult weeks. Undoubtedly, the major difficulty has been the paucity of evidence. Van Gogh appears to have remembered nothing of the evening of 23 December, (4) while Gauguin's main account is not entirely reliable. The available material therefore needs careful analysis, beginning with an incident that occurred shortly before the mutilation.


Gauguin claimed that Van Gogh threw a glass of absinthe at him while they were drinking in a local bar, probably the Card de la Gare. (5) This incident probably occurred around 10 December 1888. (6) The only source for the story is Gauguin's autobiographical account, Avant et Apres, written in 1903:
 I decided to do a portrait of him in
 the act of painting the still life he
 liked so much, sunflowers [Fig. 5].
 When the portrait was finished, he
 said to me: 'That is me, all right, but
 me gone mad.' That same evening
 we went to the cafe. He ordered a
 light absinthe. Suddenly he flung the
 glass and its contents in my face. I
 managed to duck and grab him, take
 him out of the cafe, and across the
 Place Victor-Hugo. (7) A few minutes
 later Vincent was in his own bed and
 in a matter of seconds had fallen
 asleep, not to awaken till morning.
 When he awoke he was perfectly
 calm and said to me: 'My dear
 Gauguin, I have a dim recollection
 that I offended you last night.'
 Reply: 'I forgive you gladly and with
 all my heart, but yesterday's scene
 might recur, and if I were to be
 struck, I might lose my self-control
 and strangle you. Allow me,
 therefore, to write to your brother
 and tell him I am coming back. (8)


The fact that Gauguin devotes nearly as many words to the subsequent conversation as to the event suggests he felt this was particularly important. In the light of subsequent developments, it appears that Van Gogh may have misinterpreted Gauguin's reference to 'strangle' him as a murder threat.

Gauguin did indeed write to Theo van Gogh, his Parisian dealer, who was financially supporting him in Aries. On about 11 December, presumably the day after the incident, he explained that he and Van Gogh 'cannot not live side by side without turmoil resulting from our f temperamental incompatibility.' (9) Van Gogh also wrote to his brother, admitting that Gauguin was 'a little out of sorts with the good town of Aries, the little yellow house where we work, and especially with me'. (10)

The dating of the absinthe incident also makes it possible to date Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers (Fig. 5), which was referred to by Gauguin. Although normally dated to the first half of December 1888, it can now be dated more precisely to about 10 December, assuming Gauguin's recollection is correct. This in turn helps with the dating of Van Gogh's recently-identified Portrait of Gauguin. (11) Although a rough and possibly abandoned study, it was almost certainly done at the time Gauguin was painting the portrait of him. Portrait of Gauguin (Fig. 2) was therefore painted early in the month, certainly by 10 December.


Despite the personal difficulties between them, Van Gogh desperately wanted Gauguin to stay. Gauguin's income was important for running the Yellow House, but Van Gogh also valued his companionship and artistic stimulation. On either 16 or 17 December the two artists made a day trip to Montpellier, seventy kilometres away, to see the Alfred Bruyas collection in the Musee Fabre. Their conversations were intense, but the break seems to have been a success. On the morning after their return, Gauguin told Van Gogh that he 'felt his old self coming back'. (12) Gauguin then wrote to Theo on about 19 December, saying his earlier decision to return to Paris had been 'a bad dream' and he would remain in Aries. (13)

Throughout this difficult period, the two artists continued to be highly productive. Between 13 and 23 December Van Gogh painted seven pictures: portraits of Joseph Ginoux, Marie Ginoux (L'Arleienne), Augustine Roulin (La Berceuse), a man and a young man, a self-portrait and a dance hall. (14) Gauguin produced five works: portraits of an old man, a man (possibly Joseph Ginoux) and the artist's mother, a self-portrait and the public garden in Arles. (15)

But the tensions were not fully resolved. On 22 December, the day before the self-mutilation, Gauguin wrote to his artist friend Emile Schuffenecker (1851-1934): 'My situation here is difficult ... One day I will explain it all to you. In any case, I am staying here, but I remain poised to leave at any moment." (16)

Although much has been written about the deteriorating relations between Van Gogh and Gauguin, less attention has been paid to an equally important development in December 1888: the engagement of Theo van Gogh. Theo had fallen in love with Jo Bonger in July 1887, but she had then rejected his advances. They met again in Paris, on around 10 December 1888, and the relationship blossomed extremely quickly. They became engaged within a matter of days, at some point before 21 December. (17)

Van Gogh appears to have had ambivalent feelings about Theo's marriage, wishing happiness for his brother, but also fearing that he would lose his support. The key question is therefore when it was that Van Gogh heard about the engagement. It has been generally assumed that he did not learn of it until 2 January 1889, or possibly a day or two earlier, since on that date he wrote to Theo, saying 'I have read and reread your letter about your meeting the Bongers. (18) On 9 January he received formal letters about the engagement from both Theo and Jo. (19) It was assumed, therefore, that he learned of it only after his self-injury.

However, recently published family correspondence suggests a different story. It is now known that Theo wrote on 21 December to his mother, Anna, to tell her the news and the letter was received in Breda the following day. (20) It is quite understandable that he informed her first, but it would be surprising if he had not also written to Van Gogh at around the same time--since he would surely have wanted personally to inform his brother (with whom he was extremely close), rather than allow him to hear about the engagement at second hand from their family in the Netherlands. However, the news does not appear to have reached Arles by 22 December, since on that day Gauguin wrote to Schuffenecker, mentioning his sales arrangements with Theo, but not alluding to the changes in his dealer's personal life. (21)

We now know that Van Gogh certainly knew about the engagement by Christmas Day, when he discussed it with Theo in hospital. A recently published letter from Theo to Jo describes the bedside conversation, at a time when Van Gogh was in a confused state, following the self-mutilation: 'When I [Theo] mentioned you to him he evidently knew who & what I meant & when I asked whether he approved of our plans, he said yes, but that marriage ought not to be regarded as the main object in life." (22) Vincent's reaction sounds as if it was a slightly grudging acceptance, particularly considering that Theo would have surely wanted to have put a positive spin on the comments when passing them on to his fiancee.

On Christmas Day Van Gogh was both physically extremely weak and mentally confused. As Theo had told Jo about the hospital visit: 'He seemed to be all right for a few minutes when I was with him, but lapsed shortly afterwards into his brooding about philosophy & theology. It was terribly sad being there, because from time to time all his grief would well up inside him & he would try to weep, but couldn't.' (23) If Vincent had already received a letter, then it would be understandable that its contents might have been discussed; but had there not been an earlier letter, then this would seem an inappropriate moment for Theo to have imparted such momentous and sensitive news.

Further evidence to suggest that Vincent knew about the engagement before the mutilation is a very much later comment by Theo and Jo's son V.W. van Gogh. In 1953 he wrote in the introduction to Van Gogh's published letters: 'The trouble with Gauguin in Aries started right after Vincent heard from Theo that he intended to marry ... It must have passed through his mind that he [Vincent] would lose his support, although he never mentioned it and it never came about'. (24)

Although it remains a matter of speculation, Van Gogh may well have received news about his brother's engagement on 23 December--the very day of the self-mutilation in Arles. (25) Van Gogh was extremely dependent on his brother, both financially and emotionally. Theo regularly sent him payments for his living expenses and he was his closest companion. It would therefore be quite understandable that Van Gogh might regard the prospect of his brother's marriage with some trepidation, fearing that there would be other calls on his money and time.

Van Gogh feared abandonment, certainly by Gauguin, and quite possibly by Theo. The self-mutilation can also be regarded as a desperate call for support, in the face of these fears. This might therefore have precipitated the tragedy, although obviously such a destructive act must have been caused by severe medical and psychological problems. What, then, actually happened?

Cruel blow

During the evening of Sunday 23 December 1888 a row flared up between Gauguin and Van Gogh. We have two accounts by Gauguin, the first given to his artist friend Emile Bernard (1868-1941). On about 31 December 1888, Bernard passed on what Gauguin had told him in a letter to the critic Gabriel-Albert Aurier (1865 -92):
 Vincent ran after me [Gauguin] (he
 was going out, it was night), I turned
 around, because for some time he
 had been acting strangely. But I
 mistrusted him. Then he told me:
 'You are silent, but I will also be
 silent.' Ever since [it was clear] I had
 to leave Aries, he was so bizarre that
 I couldn't take it. He even said to me:
 'Are you going to leave?'. And when
 I said 'Yes', he tore this sentence
 from a newspaper and
 put it in my hand: 'The murderer
 took flight' ['Le meurtrier a pris
 la fuite']. (26)

The source of the newspaper report has recently been identified: it was published on 23 December, the day of the self-mutilation, in the Parisian newspaper L'Intransigeant (Fig. 4). (27) Gauguin subsequently wrote the phrase 'Le meurtrier a pris la fuite' (28) in his Arles/Britanny sketchbook. Insufficient attention has been given to Van Gogh's reaction to this newspaper report. Gauguin's account to Bernard continued:
 Vincent had returned home after my
 departure, had taken a razor and cut
 his ear clean through. Then he put a
 big beret over his head and went to a
 brothel to take the ear to a wretched
 girl, telling her: 'You will remember
 me, truly I tell you this.' The girl
 fainted immediately. The police were
 called and came to the house. (29)


Gauguin later gave a second account, in Avant et Apres:
 When evening came I ate a scant
 dinner and felt the need to go out
 alone for a stroll amid the scent of
 blossoming laurel. I had got almost
 to the other side of the Place Victor-Hugo
 [Place Lamartine] when I
 heard a well-known little step behind
 me, quick and jerky. I turned around
 just as Vincent rushed at me with an
 open razor in his hand. The look in
 my eyes at that moment must have
 been very powerful, for he stopped,
 lowered his head and ran back
 toward the house ... I went straight to
 a good hotel in Arles ... I was so upset
 that I was unable to fall asleep until
 nearly three in the morning ... Van
 Gogh went back to the house and
 immediately cut off his ear, very close
 to the head. It must have taken him
 some time to stanch the flow of
 blood, for next day a number of wet
 towels lay on the stone floor of the
 two ground-floor rooms. The blood
 had soiled both rooms and the little
 stairway which led up to our
 bedroom. When he was well enough
 to go out, with a Basque beret pulled
 down over his head, he went straight
 to a house where, if you can't find a
 girl from your home-town, you can
 at least find someone to talk to, and
 he gave his ear, carefully washed and
 sealed in an envelope, to the man on
 duty. 'Here,' he said, 'in
 remembrance of me.' Then he fled,
 went home and to bed, and fell
 asleep; but first he took the trouble
 of closing the shutters and placing a
 lighted lamp on a table near the
 window. Within ten minutes the
 whole street reserved for prostitutes
 was in an uproar and people
 gossiped about had happened. (30)

It has been suggested that this report is not entirely accurate, partly because it was written fifteen years after the events, but more so because Gauguin appears to be trying to justify his conduct. He had mentioned being followed by Van Gogh in his initial account to Bernard (as relayed to Aurier), but not being threatened with a razor, and one wonders why this crucial element would have been omitted earlier. A razor would have been difficult to see on a dark winter night, although if the men were close to each other, then it might have glinted. (31) It is interesting that Gauguin emphasises that he went to a 'good hotel' (therefore subtly suggesting it was not a brothel), although curiously he did not fall asleep until 3 am.

There is also a frequently cited report from a local newspaper, Le Forum Republicain, on 30 December 1888 (Fig. 10). The first half of the short article, in translation, was as follows:
 Last Sunday [23 December], at half
 past eleven in the evening, a certain
 Vincent Vangogh [sic], painter,
 originally from Holland, appeared at
 the maison de tolerance no. 1, asked
 for someone called Rachel, and
 handed over to her ... his ear, telling
 her 'keep this object carefully'. Then
 he disappeared. (32)

In addition, a second newspaper report has now emerged, which has never been cited in the literature. This short cutting, from an unidentified publication, reads, in translation:
 Arles. The crazy man. Under this
 heading, we have, last Thursday
 [presumably 27 December 1888],
 told the story of the artist of Polish
 nationality who cut his ear with a
 razor and offered it to a cafe girl. We
 learn today that the artist-painter is
 in hospital, where he suffers from a
 cruel blow, but one hopes that he
 will be saved. (33)

It is curious that Van Gogh, who was unnamed, was described as Polish, but his surname is difficult for non-Dutch speakers to pronounce (this was the main reason why he liked to be called Vincent and signed his painting thus).

Jo van Gogh-Bonger presented an extremely brief account of events in her memoirs, written in 1913. Her sources were family correspondence or verbal information from her late husband, Theo:
 On the evening of 24 December [sic]
 Vincent had in a state of violent
 excitement, an attack of high fever,
 cut off a piece of his ear and
 brought it as a gift to a woman in a
 brothel. A big tumult had ensued.
 Roulin the postman had seen
 Vincent home. (34)

Jo Bonger's claim that Van Gogh's friend and neighbour Joseph Roulin had helped him return to the Yellow House seems unlikely, since he would surely have immediately called a doctor or taken him to hospital. Her comment may be due to a misreading of a letter from Van Gogh, which suggests that it was Roulin who encouraged him to leave the Yellow House and seek medical help at the hospital. In his letter of 4 January 1889, Van Gogh wrote to Theo: 'Roulin has been truly kind to me, it was he who had the presence of mind to make me come out of that place before the others were convinced.' (35) The previous paragraph of the letter referred to the Yellow House, so 'that place' ('de la') presumably refers to his home, rather than the brothel. This suggests that either the police were reluctant to let him leave or that Van Gogh himself did not want to do so--and that it was 'postman' Roulin who stressed that medical attention was urgent.

A more detailed account of events is provided by Alphonse Robert, a police officer in Arles. He recounted his story in 1929, over forty years later, but it appears to be reasonably accurate:
 Passing before the maison de
 tolerance no. 1, at the time Rue du
 Bout d'Arles, run by a woman
 named Virginie, the prostitute
 whose pseudonym ['nom de guerre']
 was Gaby, it was she in the presence
 of the owner ['patronne'], who
 handed me a newspaper enclosing
 the ear and told me that the painter
 had made them a present; I
 questioned them a little and opened
 the package and certified that there
 was a whole ear. It was my duty to
 inform my superior immediately;
 forthwith, police commissioner
 [Joseph] d'Ornano sought him and
 left with other police for his home. (36)

This is the only reference to the fragment of the ear being wrapped in newspaper. If the packet containing the ear was indeed made from a newspaper, then it is possible that it was the latest issue of L'Intransigeant (which had included the short article Van Gogh had handed to Gauguin), although this is pure speculation.

The various accounts disagree over whether it was the whole of his left ear or just part of it which was cut. The consensus seems to be that it was the lower half of the ear, including the lobe and part of the central section of the organ. Although none of Van Gogh's subsequent self-portraits show the unbandaged mutilated ear (and there are no photographs of him at this period), death-bed depictions by Dr Paul Gachet suggest that he still had the upper part of his ear. (37) Following the mutilation, Vincent believed he had severed an artery, and he apparently tried to stem the flow of blood with towels before leaving the Yellow House. (38)

Which brothel?

The location of the brothel has been the cause of some confusion, since there were several small streets in the former quarrier chaud, centred on the Rue des Recollets (now Rue d'Alembert). This area is in the north of the old town, just before the ramparts, and not far from the railway station. The Aries municipality's file on 'Maisons de tolerances, 1871-91' is closed for 150 years, until 2042, but an archivist examined the papers on my behalf. (39) These are primarily about the licensing of brothels, so unsurprisingly there is nothing about the incident involving Van Gogh. There is also no evidence that there was a 'maison de tolerance no. 1', as originally cited in the newspaper report in Le Forum Republicain. There was, however, a brothel recorded at 1 Rue du Bout d'Arles, run by Virginie Chabaud (Robert had given the name Virginie). We are therefore able firmly to identify the location (Fig. 6).


There is one reference to this street in Van Gogh's letters, where, on c. 17 September 1888, he refers disparagingly to 'street Arabs' and 'loafers' in the Rue du Bout d'Arles. In the same letter he mentions 'the street of the kind girls', presumably also the same location. (40) The street was later renamed the Rue des Ecoles, probably in 1905 when a primary school was opened there. Although several original small houses on the eastern side of the short street survive, the one frequented by Van Gogh no longer exists (Fig. 7).


Van Gogh may well have done a painting of this brothel. On 12 November 1888 he wrote to Theo, telling him he had done 'a rough sketch of the brothel', which is now at the Barnes Foundation (Fig. 8). (41) It is a relatively unknown work, because it has only recently been reproduced in colour and has never been lent since its acquisition by Albert Barnes in 1923.

The Brothel appears to have been painted in Van Gogh's studio, rather than from life, but it was probably either wholly or partly based on the establishment in the Rue du Bout d'Arles. On the back wall in the painting there are three pictures or prints, and these may well link up with a comment by Gauguin. He later recalled regularly visiting a brothel 'salon' in Aries in which hung two prints by William Bouguereau (1825-1905), 'a Virgin' and 'a Venus'--unusual pendants. (42) For Van Gogh and Gauguin, there was a further reason for amusement: the two prints were published by Goupil, the gallery for which Theo worked in Paris.

Five weeks after the mutilation, when Van Gogh was temporarily out of hospital, he returned to the brothel at 1 Rue du Bout d'Arles. In one of the very few references to the mutilation incident in his letters, he wrote to Theo on 3 February 1889:
 Yesterday I went to try to see the girl
 I had gone to when I was out of my
 wits. They told me there that in this
 country things like that are not out
 of the ordinary. She had been upset
 by it and had fainted but had
 recovered her calm. And they spoke
 well of her, too. (43)

The morning after

What happened after Van Gogh had left the severed part of his ear at the brothel is less clear. Gauguin initially explained to Bernard:
 I spent the night in a hotel, and when
 I returned all Aries was in front of
 our house. Then the police arrested
 me, because the house was covered
 with blood. (44)

He then explained that Van Gogh was in hospital, and went on to describe the first two days of his friend's stay there.

In Avant et Apres, Gauguin gave a much more detailed account:
 [I] woke up rather late, at about
 half-past seven. Reaching the square
 [Place Lamartine], I saw that a large
 crowd had gathered. Near our house
 there were some gendarmes and a
 little man in a bowler hat who was
 the chief of police ... The man in the
 bowler hat said to me point-blank
 and very harshly: 'Well, sir, what
 have you done to your comrade?'
 'I don't know ...' 'But you do ... you
 know well perfectly well ... he is
 dead.' I would not wish such an
 instant on anyone, and it took me
 several minutes before I could think
 and overcome the pounding of my
 heart. I was choking with anger,
 indignation, and pain, and also the
 shame of all those people's eyes
 tearing into me. I stammered, 'Very
 well, sir, let us go upstairs and
 discuss it there.' Vincent lay curled
 up in bed, completely covered by the
 sheet, and appeared lifeless. Gently,
 very gently I touched his body; its
 warmth assured me he was alive. I
 felt as if all my intelligence and
 energy had been given a new lease
 on life. In a near-whisper I said to
 the chief of police: 'Sir, kindly wake
 this man as carefully as you know
 how, and if he asks for me, tell him
 I've left for Paris; the sight of me
 could be fatal to him.' I must say
 that from that moment on, the chief
 of police was as polite as could be
 and wise enough to send for a doctor
 and a carriage. (45)

The police at the Yellow House must have initially considered whether Gauguin might have attacked his friend. It does seem surprising that they had simply left the seriously injured Van Gogh on his bed, rather than calling a doctor or sending him to hospital--unless there were legal reasons why he needed detaining or Van Gogh was refusing to be moved. The idea that the police believed him to be dead is hardly credible; this element of Gauguin's later story, which was not in his initial account to Bernard, must be fanciful.

Astonishingly, Gauguin appears to have recorded part of the story in his Arles/Brittany sketchbook, in the form of a caricature of police chief Joseph d'Ornano. Gauguin drew a short man in a bowler hat, facing a turkey (Fig. 11). A tall uniformed official stands behind him. Beneath is the inscription, 'Je souls [sic] le commissaire central!!!' ('I am the head commissioner'). (46) An adjacent caricature shows the police chief puzzling at a painting on an easel. The nature of the sketches might lead one to wonder whether Gauguin could have been depicting another encounter with the police, but they seem to date from December 1888. It has recently been established that a farmhouse and figure on the two previous pages of the sketchbook were used in a painting that Gauguin completed early that month. (47) The caricatures therefore do appear to refer to the morning of 24 December 1888, revealing a surprisingly lighthearted attitude in view of his friend's severe injury.


Another account of what occurred on the day after the self-mutilation is in the second half of the newspaper report published in Le Forum Republicain:
 The police, informed of these facts
 [that Van Gogh had delivered his ear
 to the brothel], which could only be
 attributed to a poor madman,
 looked the next morning for this
 individual, whom they found in his
 bed, barely showing a sign of life.
 The unfortunate man was urgently
 admitted to the hospital. (48)

Jo Bonger's commentary on the events of the 24 December, written many years later in her memoirs, was extremely brief: 'The police had intervened, had found Vincent bleeding and unconscious in bed, and sent him to the hospital.' (49)

The final account is from Dr Felix Rey (1867-1932), who treated Van Gogh in hospital. They got on well with each other, and Vincent painted a portrait of him in mid-January 1889, in which the doctor's left ear is a prominent red tone (Fig. 15). Dr Rey's memories were recorded in 1928-29, forty years after the events. (50) He claimed that it was Gauguin who arranged for Van Gogh to be treated, although other evidence suggests that it was Roulin who played the key role. Dr Rey said that he had been given the severed ear and had preserved it in a jar in his office, but it had disappeared while he was on a holiday. He also claimed that the whole ear had been severed.


The evidence about when and how Vincent was taken to hospital is contradictory, but it does seem more likely that it was not in the very early hours of the morning, but around dawn on 24 December, Christmas Eve. Soon afterwards, Gauguin sent a telegram to Theo's gallery in Paris, calling him urgently to Aries. Theo then wrote a short note to Jo: 'I received sad news today. Vincent is gravely ill. I don't know what's wrong, but I shall have to go there as my presence is required.' (51) A few hours later he sent a further letter to his fiancee (possibly after a second telegram from Aries), writing that 'he is very sick, but he might still recover'. (52)

Theo left later that day for the 770-kilometre journey. The train timetable suggests that he may well have taken the 7.15 pm express from Paris, arriving at 8.46 am at Tarascon, where he would have had to get a local train or coach for the short trip to Arles. (53) Theo must have hurried to the hospital, in the Hotel Dieu, in the south of the town, just over a kilometre from the station (Fig. 14). He met Dr Rey and found Van Gogh in a weak condition and a confused state. Although Gauguin may well have accompanied Theo to the hospital, there is no evidence that be visited his friend there; the doctors may have advised against it, Gauguin may not have wanted to see him, or Van Gogh may have turned down the suggestion. Theo later described the situation to Jo:
 I found Vincent in the hospital in
 Aries. The people around him
 realised from his agitation that for
 the past few days he had been
 showing symptoms of that most
 dreadful illness, of madness, and an
 attack of high fever, when he injured
 himself with a knife, [and this] was
 the reason he was taken to hospital. (54)


Theo withheld the horrific news that Vincent had cut off part of his ear. He also described the object as a knife, although this may have been to spare Jo the detail that a sharper instrument had been used.

While in Arles, Theo must have met Roulin, as well as the Reverend Frederic Salles, the Protestant minister in Arles, who may well have served as a hospital chaplain. Theo and Gauguin then returned to Paris together that evening, quite possibly taking the 8.21 pm train from Tarascon and arriving in Paris the following morning at 9.25 am. It is curious that they both left quite so quickly, considering that Vincent was then thought to be close to death. (55) Surprisingly little comment has been made on this point.

Theo probably stayed in Aries for less than nine hours. Presumably he needed to return to the Goupil Gallery, which he managed, although it was just after Christmas. Jo left Paris on the morning of 26 December for Amsterdam, but although Theo returned that morning they do not seem to have met. On 5 January Theo went to Holland, for the engagement celebration. Obviously he had work and family responsibilities, but, considering his brother's condition, it is surprising that he did not remain longer in Aries.

It is even more curious that Gauguin left Aries so swiftly. Even if his presence might have upset Van Gogh, he could have remained in contact with the hospital, to pass on news to Theo. He might also have done more to tidy up the Yellow House, which would have been helpful, regardless of whether Van Gogh had died or returned home. In addition, Gauguin does not seem to have had pressing personal or professional reasons to be in Paris. By fleeing Aries, he appeared to be abandoning his friend. Although they corresponded, the two artists never met again.

The guillotine

On his return, Gauguin did what appears to be a most extraordinary thing: he attended an execution. After leaving Theo at the station, he went to stay with his friend Schuffenecker, at 29 Rue Boulard. The following day, 27 December, he spent the evening at the Cafe de la Nouvelle-Athenes (in Place Pigalle), the meeting place of the Impressionists. He was presumably catching up with news after spending the autumn in Arles--and, no doubt, telling his friends about Van Gogh. While at the cafe, news came through about the impending guillotining of a murderer known as Prado, alias Count Linska de Castillon. On the night of 14-15 January 1885 Prado had murdered a prostitute, Marie Aguetant, in Paris.

Gauguin recounted in Avant et Apres what happened next:
 I and a friend were informed by a
 telegram sent to the Cafe Nouvelle
 Athenes by a captain of the
 municipal guard. At half past two in
 the morning we were on the Place
 de la Roquette, stamping our feet,
 for it was extremely cold on that
 very dark night, awaiting the
 execution, or at least (to help to
 pass the time) the arrival and setting
 up of the machine. (56)

Gauguin was so fascinated by the guillotine, and the way it operated, that he drew it in his Arles sketchbook, probably that night (Fig. 16). (57)


Shortly before dawn, the police began pushing back the crowd from the centre of the square. (58) Gauguin was annoyed at losing his vantage point, and as he explained:
I still wanted to see, and when I
want something I am very obstinate.
So I dashed across the square
(breaking the respectful silence) and,
dodging between the two boots of a
gendarme, reached the centre.

From there, Gauguin had a good view of the action at 7.30 am on 28 December (Fig. 17):
 The murderer, quite small but of a
 sturdy appearance, had a handsome,
 proud head; he looked well in spite
 of the evil appearance of his closely
 shaven hair and his coarse linen
 shirt. The board [wooden frame of
 the guillotine] wavered so that
 instead of the neck it was the nose
 that was hit. The man struggled with
 pain, and two blue-blouses, brutally
 pushing on his shoulders, brought
 the neck into its proper place. There
 was a long minute, and then the
 knife did its work. I struggled to see
 the head lifted out of the box; three
 times I was pushed back. They went
 off a few yards to get water in a pail
 to pour over the head.


Gauguin also gave another account of the Prado execution in an unpublished manuscript, entitled L'Esprit Moderne et le Catholicisme. He reported a conversation between prisoner and guard. Although it is difficult to believe that Gauguin personally overheard this exchange, the passage does provide further insight into his mind:
 'What is that there?' [Prado said],
 pointing his head towards a box in
 front of the blade. 'That is the basket
 for the head.' [replied the guard]
 'And that' [Prado asked], pointing to
 a large box on the right. 'That is the
 box for your body' [the guard
 replied] 'Let's go,' he [Prado]
 exclaimed. That was all. (59)

It is astonishing that following recent events in Aries, Gauguin had either the stamina or desire to witness an execution, although this point has received little attention. (60) Gauguin must have been physically exhausted, having had three nights with limited sleep: he had escaped to a hotel in Aries and did not sleep until 3 am (23/24 December), the following night he spent in the bloodied Yellow House awaiting Theo's arrival (24/25 December) and he then travelled overnight to Paris (25/26 December). Yet on his second day in Paris he spent the entire night outside, in the freezing cold (27/28 December).

Even more surprising is Gauguin's revelling in the detail of how the guillotine blade apparently missed the neck of the murderer on the first occasion, slicing off part of Prado's nose. Gauguin was watching this barely five days after his friend had severed part of his ear. On two occasions during these days he himself had been 'accused' of involvement in murder. Van Gogh had handed over the newspaper article reporting that 'The murderer took flight' and the following day Gauguin was questioned by police over what they saw as a possible murder attempt.

Gauguin's own explanation for his interest in the Prado case is bizarre, and is also linked to the triple-murderer Henri Pranzini. (61) Pranzini had been found guilty of the murder on 16/17 March 1887 of a Parisian prostitute, Regine de Montille, her maid Annette Gremeret and the maid's daughter Marie. Pranzini was executed on 31 August 1887. Gauguin's claim was that these two notorious murder plots had been hatched in the cafe of Agostina Segatori (1841-1910), a close friend and probable lover of Van Gogh.

She was the proprietor of the Cafe du Tambourin, in the Boulevard de Clichy, and had been painted the previous year by Van Gogh. (62)

Gauguin's explanation was complicated, but these were the main elements:
 During my stay in Aries, he [Van
 Gogh] told me a rather curious story
 about it, a story of which I never
 heard the end ... La Sicatore [La
 Segatori] had a man with her to help
 run the cafe ... One fine day, without
 rhyme or reason, he [the barman]
 flung a glass of beer at Vincent's face
 which cut him on the cheek.
 Vincent, all covered in blood, was
 thrown out of the cafe ... According
 to Van Gogh, the whole Pansini
 [Pranzini] affair, as well as many
 others, was hatched in this place ...
 From this Pansini case sprang
 another case, also, according to Van
 Gogh, hatched in this famous cafe,
 the Prado case... The police were
 bound to have the last word and this
 man was condemned to death. (63)

Although Gauguin's story sounds bizarre, there is independent evidence for part of it. In the summer of 1887 Van Gogh had been involved in a scuffle with a waiter in the Cafe du Tambourin, apparently over ownership of some of his pictures. (64) The throwing of a glass of beer at Van Gogh's face has obvious parallels with the absinthe incident in Aries. However, there seems to be no evidence from court reports that either the Pranzini or the Prado murder plot was hatched in Segatori's cafe. There are a number of possible explanations for Gauguin's account: there may have a link with the card which we do not know about, it may well have been Van Gogh's fantasy, or Gauguin may have invented the story. But although mystery surrounds Gauguin's explanation for attending Prado's execution, his gruesome interest in the spectacle is clear.

In considering what occurred between Van Gogh and Gauguin in December 1888, the major surprise in the evidence is the recurrence of thoughts about murder. There was Gauguin's threat after the glass was thrown, Van Gogh's action in cutting out the newspaper report about the fleeing murderer, discussions over the Pranzini and Prado slayings of prostitutes, and Gauguin's decision to attend the execution.

Two characters

Although Van Gogh was close to death on Christmas Day, the wound healed astonishingly quickly. By 31 December the Revd Frederic Salles wrote to Theo that he had 'found him calm, in a state which revealed nothing abnormal'. (65) On 7 January 1889 Van Gogh left hospital and returned to the Yellow House. But although his ear was healing, his mental problems returned, and on 7 February he had to go back into hospital. (66)

Van Gogh's medical condition is difficult to diagnose, and lies beyond the scope of the present article--it has been the subject of many hundreds of specialist studies. (67) Among the various physical and psychological conditions which have been proposed are epilepsy, syphilis, manic-depressive illness, Meniere's disease (afflicting the inner ear), hallucinatory psychosis, alcoholism, turpentine poisoning and schizophrenia.

As for Gauguin, his life does not appear to have been unduly affected by the events in Aries. He stayed in Paris until mid-February 1889, when he left for Pont-Aven. From then on, he continued to lead a peripatetic life between Paris and Brittany, until his departure for Tahiti in 1891.

It is difficult to interpret Gauguin's role in the drama of Aries. He seems to have remained distant from his friend's suffering, even callous, particularly in his hasty flight from the town. It is hard to know what he really felt.

Gauguin's enigmatic attitudes are symbolised by a jug that he made in stoneware, probably on about 1 February 1889 (Fig. 18). It is a self-portrait, with the artist depicted with closed eyes, and he initially appears asleep. A closer examination, however, suggests that he is dead. Rivulets of blood flow onto his neck; some from his nose, the rest from his ears--the ears are abbreviated and are little more than protuberances. Although the face is instantly recognisable as Gauguin's, the ears are Van Gogh's--as is the idea that the head could be dead. It is a powerful work, clearly linked to the traumatic events of the previous five weeks. When modelling the jug, he must have been thinking about his friend Van Gogh--and of the head of Prado that was washed and displayed to the excited crowd. Gauguin's self-portrait jug seems to exude martyrdom, as if he is the one who is suffering.


TRAGEDY AT ARLES, 1888 A summary of events

Mid evening, Sunday, 23 December Relations between the two artists were tense, and after supper Gauguin left the Yellow House and crossed the Place Lamartine, on his way into town. Van Gogh ran up behind him, in a manner which Gauguin felt was aggressive. Van Gogh may have been holding a razor, although this crucial detail is somewhat doubtful. Gauguin was annoyed and worried by Vincent's behaviour, so he spent the night in a hotel.

Late evening, Sunday, 23 December Van Gogh returned to the Yellow House, going upstairs to his bedroom. He took a razor and severed part of his left ear (probably the lobe and some of the central section of the ear). He placed the flesh in a packet, perhaps an envelope or newspaper, left the Yellow House and walked across the Place Lamartine, through the ramparts and on to 1 Rue du Bout d'Arles, which probably took less than five minutes. At around 11.30 pm he spoke to the man on the door of the brothel. Van Gogh asked to see Rachel ('Gaby') and handed over the packet. She opened it and fainted. Virginie Chabaud, the madame in charge, quickly appeared. Vincent fled the brothel immediately, returning to the Yellow House. A commotion developed at the brothel, and a policeman, Alphonse Robert, arrived shortly afterwards. He was handed the package, presumably just before midnight.

Monday, 24 December Police chief Joseph d'Ornano was informed and officers were sent to the Yellow House. It is unclear whether this occurred soon after midnight or, more likely, if it was around dawn. Gauguin returned home at 7.30 am, to find police there, and was questioned. Van Gogh's neighbour Joseph Roulin was also present. Van Gogh was then sent to hospital, presumably shortly afterwards. Gauguin telegraphed Theo Van Gogh in Paris. In the evening Theo left by train for Arles.

Tuesday, 25 December (Christmas) Theo arrived in the morning and visited Vincent in hospital, finding him very weak and confused. Theo left that evening, with Gauguin.

Wednesday, 26 December Theo and Gauguin arrived in Paris. Gauguin stayed with Schuffenecker. Theo returned to work at the Goupil Gallery. His fiancee, Jo Bonger, had left Paris for Amsterdam that morning.

Thursday, 27 December In the evening Gauguin went to the Cafe de la Nouvelle-Athenes, where he heard news of Prado's imminent execution. He and a friend went to the Place de la Roquette, where they witnessed the guillotining at 7.30 am the following morning.

I am very grateful to all those who assisted my research, particularly staff at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

(1) Dodge MacKnight to Eugene Boch (letter 28). A photographic copy from a microfilm is in the Archives de l'Art Contemporain en Belgique, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. The cited reference has been published twice in translation, in Anna Bach und Eugene Boch, exh. cat., Moderne Galerie Saarbrucken, 1971, p. 48, and Hommage a Anna et Eugene Boch, exh. cat., Musee de Pontoise, 1994, p. 80, but has not appeared in the Van Gogh literature. The Pontoise catalogue gives the date as 19 April 1888, although I read it as 17 April.

(2) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh (hereafter Letters), London, 1958, volume II, p. 547 (letter 477a).

(3) The earliest systematic analysis is a pamphlet by Victor Doiteau and Edgar Leroy, Vincent van Gogh et le Drame de l'Orellle Coupee, Pans, 1936 (also in Aesculape, no. 7, 1936, pp. 169-92), Other useful accounts are John Rewald, Post Impreseionlsm: From Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1978, pp. 24046 and Jan Hulsker, Vincent and Theo van Gogh: A Dual Biography, Ann Arbor, Mk 1990, pp. 319-35. Most important are Victor Merlhes, Paul Gauguin et Vincent van Gogh, Taravao, Tahiti, 1989, pp. 224-57 and Douglas Druick and Peter Zegers, Van Gogh and Gauguin, ex. cat., Art Institute of Chicago and Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2001-2002, pp. 244-68.

(4) Vincent said in a letter to Theo on c. 28 April 1889 that he had 'completely lost the recollection of those days' (Letters, volume III, p. 158, letter 587). The text of Vincent's Aries letters in his original French are in Verzamelde Brievan van Vincent van Gogh, 2 vols,. Amsterdam, 1974.

(5) The setting can be seen in a painting Gauguin did on c. 13 November 1888 of the cafe, with proprietor Marie Ginoux and a very prominent absinthe glass (Night Cafe, Arles, Pushkin Museum, Moscow, no. W318). References to Gauguin paintings are given here with 'W' numbers from the new catalogue raisonne by Daniel Wildenstein, Gauguin, Paris, 2002; the numbers should not be confused with those of the 1964 Wildenstein catalogue. Van Gogh paintings are given with 'F' numbers from J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1970.

(6) Gauguin threatened to leave Aries after the absinthe incident, and his decision to return to Paris is recorded in his letter of c. 11 December (see n. 9 below).

(7) Writing fifteen years later, Gauguin was mistaken about the name of the square, which is the Place Lamartine.

(8) Daniel Guerin (ed.), Paul Gauguin: The Writings of a Savage, New York, 1996, p. 254. The original French text is in Paul Gauguin, Avant et Apres, Paris, 1994, p. 28.

(9) Douglas Cooper, Paul Gauguin: 45 lettres a Vincent, Theo et do van Gogh, Amsterdam, 1983, p. 85 (letter 11) and Druick and Zegers, op. cit., pp. 247 and 390, n. 256. Cooper (c. 12 December) and Druick and Zegers (13-14 December) give slightly different dates, but c. 11 December now seems more appropriate. Gauguin's letter was probably sent in the same envelope as one from Vincent to Theo (letter 565, see n. 10 below), and this is expected to be redated to c. 11 September by the Van Gogh Museum's Letters Project, when the new edition of the letters is published in c. 2008. Assuming that Gauguin and Van Gogh both wrote on c. 11 December, the absinthe incident presumably occurred the previous evening.

(10) Letters, vol. Ill, p, 110 (letter 565).

(11) Martin Bailey, 'Van Gogh's Portrait of Gauguin', APOLLO, vol. CLXIV, no. 413 July 1996, pp. 51-54. Although rejected as a fake since the 1930s, the attribution has now been confirmed by technical analysis (Druick and Zegers, op. cit., pp. 235 37).

(12) Letters, vol. iii, p. 109 (letter 564).

(13) Cooper, op. cit., p. 87 (letter 12).

(14) These works are recorded in Druick and Zegers, op. cit., p. 244. The Van Gogh works are: nos. F533, F488, F508, F534, F536, F501 and F547.

(15) The Gauguin works ere: no. W328, the portrait now at the Petit Palais in Paris, the portrait now at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, W330 (the work now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington) and W329. The new Wildenstein catalogue will have later datings for three of these works (and they therefore do not appear in the published volumes covering up to 1888), but as the dating in Druick and Zegers is based on recent technical analysis, I have followed their conclusions.

(16) First fully published in Merlhes, op. cit., p. 238, with an extract in Druick and Zegers, op. cit., p 256.

(17) Leo Jansen and Jan Robert (eds.) with introduction and commentary by Han van Crimpen, Brief Happiness: The correspondence of The::) van Gogh and do Bonger, Amsterdam, 1999, pp. 24-25.

(18) Letters, vol. III, p. 112 (letter 567). The reference to the 'Bongers' is to Theo's meeting both Jo and her brother Andries. Theo's letter does not survive.

(19) Letters, vol. III, p. 115 (letter 570).

(20) Jansen and Robert (eds.), op. cit., p. 67, Original Dutch texts of the letters are in Leo Jansen and Jan Robert (eds,), Kort geluk: De Briefwisseling tussen Theo van Gogh en Jo Bonger, Amsterdam, 1999, p. 67.

(21) Merlhes, op. cit., pp. 238-43.

(22) Jansen and Robert, op, cit., p. 76 (letter 11).

(23) Ibid., p. 70 (letter 6).

(24) Letters, op, cit., vol. I, p. Iviii.

(25) Although such a letter does not survive, this is no surprise, considering how the day ended (and, in any case, relatively few of Thee's letters to Vincent have survived).

(26) Cited in Druick and Zegers, op. cit., p. 260 (a transcript of the full French text of the letter is in the Van Gogh Museum documentation centre). See also Rewald, op. cit., p. 245. The French words attributed to Vincent were: 'Vous etes taciturne mais moi je le serai aussi ... Vous allez partir?'. The envelope of the letter was apparently postmarked 1 January 1889, although Bernard wrote that Gauguin had returned 'four days ago' (he actually returned on 26 December). It would therefore be reasonable to date the letter 10 c. 31 December 1888.

(27) The article, on the top of page 2 of the newspaper, was reproduced by Druick and Zegers, op. cit., p. 260. Although dated 23 December, the newspaper was printed the previous afternoon in Pans, so it presumably reached Arles around the middle of the day on 23 December The full report of 23 December reads, in translation: 'Paris cut-throat.--A boy of nineteen years, Albert Kalis, returned to his home, last night, in Rue Vandezanne, when he was suddenly assailed by an individual who who hit him on the left side with a violent knife blow. The victim of this aggression had to be taken to the Hospital of Bicetre in a desperate condition. The murderer took flight.'

(28) Rene Huyghe, Le camet de Paul Gauguin, Paris, 1952, facsimile vol., p. 220.

(29) Gauguin used the word 'logis', which suggests that he meant the Yellow House, rather than the brothel. The beret ('un beret profond') could well have bean similar to the red beret worn by Gauguin in Van Gogh's portrait (Fig. 2). The French words attributed to Vincent were: 'Tu te souviendras de moi. En verite je te le dis.'

(30) Guerin, op. or., p. 254-55 (original French text in Gauguin, op. cit., 1994, p. 28-30). The French words attributed to Vincent were: 'Voici, en souvenir de moi.'

(31) In a recently discovered letter of January 1889, to an unidentified recipient, Gauguin wrote about his 'fears of a mortal and tragic accident' ('les craintes d'accident mortel et tragique'), involving his painter friend in Arles. This could well have been a reference to this incident, or the earlier one involving the absinthe glass. The letter, only published in part, was sold by Stargardt, Berlin, 30-31 March 1999, lot 699.

(32) My translation. Reproduced in Marc Tralbaut, Vincent van Gogh, Lausanne, 1969, p. 268. The French words attributed to Vincent were: 'Gardez cet objet precieusement.'

(33) The newspaper cutting was sent by Dodge MacKnight (then on the island of Belle-lle, Brittany) to his friend Eugene Boch. A copy is in the archives in Brussels (see n. 1 above). It has been photographed with letter 53 of March 1889, but was probably enclosed with letter 48 of 12 January 1889, in which MacKnight writes (in French) that 'Je t'envoi des nouvelles de Vincent que M. Peyrol [?] m'a raise dans une lettre' ('I am sending you the news of Vincent that Mr Peyrol sent in a letter'). Any information identifying the newspaper in which this cutting appeared would be very much appreciated.

(34) Letters, op. cit., vol. I, p. xlvi.

(35) Letters, vol. III, p. 111 (letter 566). Vincant's French text was: 'Roulin a ete veritablemant ben pour moi, c'est lui qui a eu la presence d'esprit de me faire sortir de la avant que les autres n'etaient convaincus.'

(36) Letter from Alphonse Robert, 11 September 1929, published in Doiteau and Leroy, op. cit., p. 6 (my translation). Robert made similar comments in an interview published in Le Petit Marseillais, 20 September 1929, quoted in Doiteau and Leroy, op. cir., pp. 6 7. Although partly cited in Rewald, op. cit., p. 243, Robert's letter has received little attention in the Van Gogh literature. D'Omano became involved with Van Gogh again, when on 27 February 1889 he recorded a statement about the artist's behaviour, concluding that he was mentally deranged and should be detained in an asylum ('ProcesVerbal' reproduced in Van Gegh a Aries, exh. cat., Fondation Vincent van Gogh, Aries, 2003, pp. 63-65).

(37) For a discussion on how much of the ear was lost, see Rewald, op. cit., p. 248, note 45. We know it was the left ear, because of the two self-portraits with a bandaged ear of January 1889, nos. F527 (Fig. 1) and F529 (private collection)--since these would have been painted from a mirror and show the bandage on the right side. That it was the left ear is also confirmed by death-bed portraits of Van Gogh done by Dr Paul Gachet (sea Anne Distel and Susan Alyson Stein, Cezanne to Van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet, exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 1999, pp. 140-41).

(38) Letters, vol. III, p. 114, letter 569 (7 January 1889) and Gauguin in Guerin, op. cit., p. 255.

(39) My grateful thanks to Sylvie Rebuttini, Archives Communales, Arles (dossier J43).

(40) Letters, op. cit., vol. III, pp. 42 and 44 (letter 539). The name of the street is incorrectly transcribed in the English edition of the letters as 'Rue du Pont d'Arles'. Van Gogh's French description is 'la rue des bonnes petites femmes'.

(41) Letters, op. cit., vol. III, p. 103 (letter 561). Until recently the painting was often assumed to date from October 1888, but recent technical analysis suggests that it was probably done the following month (Druick and Zegers, op. cit., p. 365).

(42) Gauguin described this in Avant et Apres, but as this section is not included in Guerin, op. cit., see an earlier translation, Van Wyck Brooks (trans.), The intimate Journals of Paul Gauguin, London, 1930, pp. 190-91 (for the French text see Gauguin, op. cit., 1994, p. 229-30). Gauguin names the 'pimp' ('maquereau') as 'pere Louis', and he may well have been working with Virginie Chabaud.

(43) Letters, vol. III, p. 135 (letter 576).

(44) See n. 26 above.

(45) Guerin, op. cit., p. 255-56 (original French text in Gauguin, op. cit., Paris, 1994, pp. 29-31).

(46) Huyghe, op. cit., facsimile vol., p. 22 and text vol., pp. 95 98. The small man is clearly the police chief, since although Gauguin uses the term 'commissaire de police' in Avant et Apres, Van Gogh referred to him on 19 March 1889 as 'le commissaire de police ou le commissaire central' (letter 579), in Verzamelde brieven van Vincent van Gogh, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 391.

(47) Huyghe, op. cit., facsimile vol., pp. 20-21. The painting is Aries landscape (private collection, no. W324); for the dating of this picture, see Druick and Zegers, op. cit., p. 246.

(48) See n. 32 above.

(49) Letters, op. cit., vol. I, p. xlvi.

(50) Benno Stokvis, 'Vincent van Gogh Aries', Gand Artistique, January 1929, pp. 4-5 and Doiteau and Leroy, op. cit., pp. 9, 15-16 and 18.

(51) Jansen and Robert, op. cit., p. 67 (letter 3).

(52) Ibid., p. 68 (letter 4). Gauguin's telegrams to Theo are lost.

(53) Bradshaw's Continental Railway, Steam Transit, and General Guide, London, June 1888.

(54) Jansen and Robert, op. cit., p. 70 (letter 6 of 28 December 1888), The French expression 'fievre chaud' was included in Theo's Dutch text, suggesting that this was the actual term which had been used by the doctors.

(55) On 26 December, the following day, Roulin would write to Theo: 'I am sorry to say I think he is lost ... When I left him I told him that I would come back to see him; he replied that we would meet again in heaven' (Hulsker, op. cit., p. 330).

(56) Brooks, op. cit., p. 154 (this section of Avant et Apres is not in Guerin, op. cit.; the original French text is in Gauguin, op. cit., Pads, 1994, p. 188).

(57) Huyghe, op, cit., facsimile vol., p. 209 and text vol., p. 120.

(58) The Illustrated London News, 5 January 1889, p. 15, reported that the spectators comprised 'the usual crowd of noctambulists, streetwalkers, and disreputable characters of all kinds'.

(59) L'Esprit Moderne et le Catholicisme, 1897-98, original and transcript (p. 82) at St Louis Art Museum (my grateful thanks to Brian Adkisson for his assistance). The French extract reads: ' "Que c'est que ca?" et de la tete il designait la bore devant a cote du couteau. "C'est le panier pour la tete." "Et ceci", designait a droite une grande bore. "C'est la boite pour ton corps." "Allez-y," s'ecria t'il. Ce fut le tout."

(60) It is covered in Merlhes, op. cit., pp. 210-12 and 222 and Druick and Zegers, op. cit., pp. 257-60 and 265-56.

(61) The two Parisian murder cases have been the subject of a number of books, See Marie-Franqois Goron, Les Memoires de M. Goron, Paris, 1934, vol. II, pp. 1-251 (translated by Philip Wilkins, Behind the French CID, London, 1940, pp, 1 145); Andre Pascal, Pranzini, Paris, 1933 (English translation, London, 1935); Andre Mure, La Courtisane Assassinee, Pans, 1955; Paul Lorenz, L'affaire Pranzlni, Paris, 1971; and Maurice Coriem, Prado, Paris, 1938. The Predo case occurred just at the time that the British public was obsessed with the Jack the Ripper murders.

(62) The paintings are Agostina Segatori in the Cafe du Tambourin, Van Gogh Museum, no. F370, and Portrait of Agostina Segaton, Musee d'Orsay, Paris, no. F381 (there are some doubts over the identity of the sitter ]n the Orsay portrait). Born is Italy, she was often known as La Segatori.

(63) Brooks, op, cir., pp. 153-54 (original French text in Gauguin, op. cit., Paris, 1994, p. 187). The name is incorrectly transcribed in a number of editions of Avant et Apres as 'Pausini', but the facsimile shows that Gauguin wrote 'Pansini', which is closer to the correct name, 'Pranzini'.

(64) Vincent's letter to Theo, summer 1887 (Letters, vol. ii, p. 519, letter 461).

(65) Hulsker, op. cit., p, 331.

(66) Van Gogh transferred to the asylum at St Remy on 8 May 1889. A year later he left Provence, staying in Auverssur-Oise for two months. He shot himself on 27 July 1890 and died two days later.

(67) The literature is extensive, but see Wilfred Niels Arnold, Vincent van Gogh: Chemicals, Crises and Creativity, Boston, 1992.

The works of art in this article are by Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) unless otherwise stated.

1 Self-portrait Bandaged Ear, c. 17 January 1889. Oil on canvas, 60 x 49 cm. [c] Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Institute of Art Library. Van Gogh painted two self-portraits about ten days after initially leaving hospital. As he used a mirror, the injured left ear is depicted on his right side


2 Portrait of Gauguin, shortly before 10 December 1888. Oil on jute, 37 x 33 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation). This portrait Was done at the same time as Gauguin's Van Gogh painting Sunflowers (Fig. 5)


3 Self-portrait dedicated to Van Gogh by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), c. 1 October 1888. Oil on canvas, 44 x 55 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation). An image Of their mutual friend Emile Bernard appears in the upper Right. Gauguin sent the Painting to Arles, three weeks Before his arrival there


4 Article from L'Intransigeant, 23 December 1888. The report on a knife attack ends: 'Le meurtrier a pris la fuite' ('The murderer took flight'). Van Gogh crept up on Gauguin at night in the Place Lamartine and handed him this article, shortly before he mutilated his ear. Photo: author


5 Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), c. 10 December 1888. Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation). It was just after Gauguin finished this portrait That Van Gogh threw a glass Of absinthe at him in a cafe


6 Map of Arles (northern section of the town), 1871. This shows the Cafe de la Gare (1) the Yellow House (2), The police station (3) and the Brothel (4)


7 Rue des Ecoles (formerly Rue du Bout d'Arles), 2003. Photo: [c] Martin Bailey. The brothel was at the far end of the street, on the right, but has been demolished


8 The Brothel or Lupanar: Tavern Scene, c. 12 November 1888. Oil on canvas, 33 x 41 cm. [c] Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennyslyvania. Photo: Bridgeman Art Library. This may have been inspired By the brothel Van Gogh visited regularly at 1 Rue du Bout d'Arles. One of the Women could be Rachel ('Gaby'), to whom he was to present his severed ear


9 Newspaper report on Van Gogh's self-mutilation, from an unidentified French publication, late December 1888 or early January 1889 (see note 33). This short article has never been reprinted. It describes Van Gogh as 'Polish', a confusion probably arising from his surname, which is difficult for non-Dutch speakers to pronounce. Archives de l'Art Contemporain en Belgique, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels


10 Newspaper report on Van Gogh's self-mutilation, La Forum Republicain, 30 December 1888. This short report in the Ades newspaper identifes the prostitute as Rachel.


11 Two caricatures of the police commissioner by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), c. 24 December 1888. Graphite on paper, 15 x 11 cm (each page). Aries/Brittany sketchbook, Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Reproduced from Rene Huyghe, Le carnet de Paul Gauguin, Pads, 1952. These appear to have been done on the day that the police commissioner suggested that Gauguin might have murdered Van Gogh


12 Photograph of Van Gogh's bedroom by Kardas, 1933, published in The London Studio, August 1934, p. 92. This is the only known photograph of the bedroom--and has not been published in the Van Gogh literature. The Yellow House was bombed in 1944


13 The Bedroom, c. 17 October 1888. Oil on canvas, 72 x 90 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation). In the corner is the mirror that Van Gogh probably used when severing part of his ear, the table on which he kept his razor, and the towel that he used to clean up the blood


14 Hospital Ward in Aries, c. 30 April 1889 (reworked October 1889). Oil on canvas, 74 x 92 cm. Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur. Van Gogh was initially in hospital until 7 January, but he was readmitted twice in February 1889 and stayed there until 8 May, when he went to the asylum at St-Remy


15 Portrait of Dr Felix Rey, c. 17 January 1889. Oil on canvas, 64 x 53 cm. Pushkin Museum, Moscow. Photo: Fondation Gianadda. Van Gogh got on well with Dr Rey, who treated him in hospital. He painted this portrait ten days after he was first discharged. It is currently on display at the Fondation Gianadda, Martigny, in 'French painting from the Pushkin Museum, Moscow' (until 13 November)


16 Sketch of guillotine by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), c. 28 December 1888. Graphite on paper, 15 x 11 cm. Arles/Brittany sketchbook, Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Reproduced from Rene Huyghe, Le carnet de Paul Gauguin, Paris, 1952. Gauguin watched the guillotine being erected in the Place de la Roquette and sketched its form

17 Paris--L 'Execution de Prado: La sortie de la Roquette by Louis Charles(?) Bombled, from an unidentified French publication, late 1888 or early 1889. The execution of Prado, who had murdered a prostitute, was international news. Gauguin stayed up all night on 27/28 December 1888 to get a good view

18 Self-portrait jug by Paul Gauguin, c. 1 February 1889. Glazed stoneware, ht 20 cm. Det Danske Kunst-industrimuseum, Copenhagen. Photo: Pernille Klemp. Gauguin has given the face his features, but the unpronounced ears and the blood flowing from them recall Van Gogh

Martin Bailey is a Van Gogh specialist. He is also a correspondent of The Art Newspaper.
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Author:Bailey, Martin
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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