Culture Re-View: Vincent Van Gogh slashes his left ear, 'Emma' is published & the Black Mamba rises

Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, 1889, private collection
Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, 1889, private collection   -   Copyright  Public domain
By David Mouriquand

23 December 1888: Vincent Van Gogh loses an ear.

On the night before Christmas Eve in 1888 in the French city of Arles, renowned Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh took the razor he kept on his small dressing table and slashed off his left earlobe.

The precise reasons behind this famous act of self-mutilation are up for debate – many have suggested depression, sexual frustration, absinthe poisoning and bipolar disorder. There is no consensus. We do know that the artist suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions and that the incident occurred after a row with painter Paul Gaugin. 

Gaugin arrived in Arles that year. He was coerced to join Van Gogh by the painter’s brother Theo, an art dealer who had promised Gaugin to buy several of his paintings should he visit his sibling. The two painted together and got into flaming rows.

On the evening of 23 December, Van Gogh and Gaugin, who had been out drinking, had an argument. The ear cutting ensued soon after. Van Gogh wrapped his ear fragment and went to a brothel to offer it to a 17-year-old cleaner at his favourite brothel, a woman named Gabrielle, or “Gaby”.

Van Gogh was promptly committed to an asylum in Arles for several weeks before leaving and producing some of his most famous paintings the following years, such as 'Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe' (1889) (see above), 'The Starry Night' (1889) and 'Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate)' (1890) (see below). 

This was a frantic period of creative activity for the painter, but also one of isolation and deep depression. 

He finally took his own life on 29 July 1890, aged 37.

Public domain
The Starry Night, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New YorkPublic domain
Public domain
Sorrowing Old Man ('At Eternity's Gate'), 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, OtterloPublic domain

Also on this day:

"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."

Lilly Library, Indiana University
First edition of Emma -1815Lilly Library, Indiana University

1815: The novel "Emma" by Jane Austen was published on this day.

"A magnificent Christmas present."

Nielsen
Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley (seated) on the cover of Electronics magazine September 1948 'Crystal Triode' issueNielsen

1947: The point-contact transistor was first demonstrated by Walter H. Brattain and John Bardeen at Bell Laboratories.

The rise of the Black Mamba

Reuters
Kobe Bryant in 2007, who becomes the youngest player in the NBA to score 20,000 pointsReuters

2007: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant becomes youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points.