Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear for a reason that has brought out the best and worst in men throughout history.
He was trying to impress a girl. Despite popular legend, he didn’t cut off his entire ear, just the earlobe.
The bloody act, accomplished with a razor, took place in Arles, France, the day before Christmas, 1888.
The artist then wrapped the lobe in paper and presented it to “Rachel,” a favorite prostitute at the brothel that he frequented, telling her, “Guard this object carefully.”
When she unwrapped it, she fell over in a faint.
The police were summoned and found van Gogh wounded and catatonic, lying in the fetal position in his bed. It was his first of a sequence of attacks of madness that came with alarming frequency until his suicide a year and a half later.
Still, it was a productive time for him, of his 850 known paintings, two-thirds were created in the last two years of his life.
In one of his cycles of lucidity, he wrote to his brother about Rachel’s reaction: “Yesterday I went 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.”