Vincent Van Gogh may have cut off his own ear in response to what most people would consider happy news, according to a writer who has taken a fresh look at one of history's famous self-mutilations. Martin Bailey says Van Gogh didn't take a razor to his ear because of an argument with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, though the two did quarrel that day in 1888, the Guardian reports. Instead, Van Gogh cut his ear off because he had learned that his brother, Theo, was going to get married, Bailey says. He says the struggling artist feared that the marriage would end his close relationship with his brother—and that it would cause Theo to cut off the financial support Van Gogh relied on.
Bailey says that Van Gogh didn't learn of the engagement while he was recovering in hospital, as previously thought, but in a letter that was delivered to him in Provence just hours before the self-mutilation. "Had Van Gogh been elated by the engagement, it is virtually inconceivable that he would have sliced off part of his ear a few hours after receiving Theo’s news, whatever other difficulties he was facing," Bailey writes in new book Studio of the South, per the Telegraph. Bailey, writing in the Art Newspaper, says his research into Van Gogh's years in Provence has also yielded clues to the whereabouts of Van Gogh's famous bed. He believes it was donated to needy people in a small Dutch town months after the end of World War II. (This museum grew an ear from Van Gogh DNA.)