Entertainment & Arts

Vincent Van Gogh 'gave ear to farmer's daughter'

Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh Image copyright AP

The young woman to whom Vincent Van Gogh gave his severed ear has been named as Gabrielle Berlatier.

The Art Newspaper tracked down the farmer's daughter's full name after a new book on the artist, published last week, referred to the woman.

The discovery of her name comes after it was suggested Van Gogh cut off his entire ear, rather than part of it.

Gabrielle was working as a maid in a brothel when she was given the strange gift, according to the new research.

Van Gogh is said to have handed over the ear to her with the words "keep this object carefully".

'Intriguing possibility'

Author Bernadette Murphy referred to the woman in Van Gogh's Ear: The True Story, which was published last week.

She said she had promised the woman's descendants she would keep her surname a secret, until they gave her permission to reveal it.

Following the book's publication, The Art Newspaper followed up details in the book and found Gabrielle's name in the records of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, where she had been treated for rabies after being bitten by a dog.


Analysis - Will Gompertz, arts editor

The legend of Van Gogh's self mutilation is turning into an art historians "ear-gate". First it was just the lobe, now it appears the entire auditory protrusion was severed by the deranged painter.

The uncovering of Gabrielle as the unlucky recipient of Van Gogh's dismembered ear adds more than just a new chapter to the now legendary tale. It means an entirely new story can be started. A story that seeks to uncover to whom the artist was speaking during his ultra heightened state, and how that can inform our knowledge of him as a pioneering painter.

I've always felt the story as previously told was too neat, too self-serving to the image the world wants to conjure of Van Gogh. I think the truth, if it ever emerges, will be a great deal darker and sadder and, paradoxically, all the more illuminating for it.


Martin Bailey, who wrote The Art Newspaper story, said discovering the name solved "one of the mysteries involving Van Gogh".

The Van Gogh expert said: "I was very intrigued to see the book and that there were enough clues in it to enable me to track down the name.

"It was a name I knew, so it wasn't an entire surprise and it was more of a confirmation. But now we know the person, we can possibly find out more in future about the incident, who she was and Van Gogh's links to her."

The Art Newspaper also suggested Gabrielle may have worked as a cleaner at the Cafe de la Gare, run by two friends of Van Gogh, and where the artist had stayed for several months.

This, the article said, "raises the intriguing possibility that she was someone whom Van Gogh saw regularly".

Gabrielle's first name had been revealed in 1936 in an article quoting the policeman called to the brothel in Arles where Van Gogh sliced off his ear in 1888, but newspaper reports at the time called her Rachel, which may have been a nickname.

The painter cut off his ear after suffering a mental breakdown. He was found alive by police the next day and taken to hospital.

Van Gogh took his own life in 1890.


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