December 23, 1888 Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh cuts off his own left ear, or at least part of the earlobe, after a row with fellow artist and close friend, Paul Gauguin. The incident happened in Arles, where van Gogh was living in a rented studio. The Dutchman, then aged 35, had long suffered repeated bouts of mental illness. Having cut off his ear with a razor blade, he then wrapped it in newspaper and gave it to a local prostitute, telling her to “keep it carefully”. He staggered home and was found unconscious in a pool of blood by Gauguin. Van Gogh was taken to hospital but his mental health problems persisted. He is widely believed to have shot himself in 1890.
Also on December 23: creation of the US Federal Reserve (1913); Voyager, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, becomes the first plane to complete a round-the-world trip without refuelling (1986); Slovenia votes overwhelmingly for independence from Yugoslavia (1990).
Born on December 23: Chet Baker (1929), Eddie Vedder (1964), Carla Bruni (1968).