1930 Sketch May Reveal Truth of van Gogh's Mutilation

Van Gogh's doctor sketched the injury decades after he treated the artist
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 12, 2016 7:11 PM CDT
Updated Jul 13, 2016 1:03 AM CDT

An amateur historian says a secret detail about Vincent van Gogh has for decades sat in the archives of the writer who tackled the artist's life in the acclaimed 1934 fictionalized biography Lust for Life. In what a press release describes as "seven years of meticulous research," Bernadette Murphy uncovered a 1930 meeting between author Irving Stone and van Gogh's physician, Felix Rey. During their visit, Rey sketched an illustration of the injury van Gogh inflicted on his left ear on Dec. 23, 1888, a wound that Rey treated a day later after police found van Gogh and brought him to the hospital, reports the BBC. The Globe and Mail reports "scholarly consensus" has long held that van Gogh sliced off his earlobe and later gifted it to a prostitute named Rachel. Quite the opposite, holds Murphy.

Murphy's suspicion that the sketch remained in Stone's archive proved correct, and it shows the ear was nearly entirely severed, with only a bit of lobe remaining. In comments to the New York Times, van Gogh biographer Steven Naifeh describes the sketch as "not credible," saying his own research surfaced a "very detailed etching" of van Gogh's ear made in 1890 by another doctor; though more than the lobe was missing, the entire ear was not gone. A reproduction of the Rey sketch, done on a prescription pad, is featured in Murphy's book, Van Gogh's Ear, which was published Tuesday. Her book upends the long-held Rachel story as well, with Murphy saying her research led her to a 19-year-old brothel maid named Gabrielle who had suffered a serious dog bite as a child and who was given the ear to "alleviate what [van Gogh] perceived as her suffering." (Another van Gogh surprise: a newly found sketchbook.)

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