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On a dark night in Provence in December 1888 Vincent van Gogh looked into a mirror, held up a blade and cut into his ear. It is an act that has come to define him.
Yet for more than a century biographers and historians seeking definitive facts about this violent act have been left with more questions than answers.
Van Gogh’s Ear by Bernadette Murphy contains exclusive revelations, a previously unpublished document and new research about the ear and the mysterious ‘Rachel’, to whom the artist presented his macabre gift.
Murphy’s investigation took her from major museums to the dusty contents of forgotten archives in a dogged pursuit to discover exactly what happened that night in Arles. She has vividly reconstructed the world in which Van Gogh moved – the madams and prostitutes, café patrons and police inspectors, his beloved brother Theo and his fellow artist and house-guest Paul Gauguin. In a compelling detective story and journey of discovery, she asks whether Van Gogh really did cut off his entire ear and who was the woman he gave it to that fateful night.
Why would an artist at the height of his powers commit such a devastating act of self-harm? With a bold new hypothesis about what was happening in Van Gogh’s heart and mind, Van Gogh’s Ear is a new understanding of a painter creating his most iconic and revolutionary work, pushing himself ever closer to greatness even as he edged towards madness – and one historic sweep of the blade that would resonate through the ages.

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