Bernadette Murphy’s Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story, might seem as if it has an obvious topic, but instead I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the author’s seven-year search to find out what happened the night Van Gogh cut off his ear and gave it to a prostitute, just as much I did the topic.
Bernadette Murphy was born and grew up in England but was living in France, about fifty miles from Arles when she became interested in the ‘hows and whys’ of Van Gogh’s ear story, after noticing how much uncertainty there was regarding how much of his ear had been cut off, who he gave his ear too and why he did it. When she started researching, she didn’t know if she would be able to get definite answers to her questions or even if anyone else had previously investigated the mystery.
Van Gogh’s story is fascinating. An artist whose works are recognised today as masterpieces but who sold almost nothing during his lifetime, lived in a small town in a foreign country where he painted frenziedly in a unique, colourful style, then suddenly mutilated himself one night by chopping off part or all of his ear and presenting it to a prostitute. He was then admitted to hospital, where he recovered somewhat and went on to paint again, but was in and out of hospital until he suicided soon after.
The story of Bernadette Murphy’s research is also fascinating. Years of looking through archives and learning about the people and the town of Arles have made her an expert on the subject, let alone on Van Gogh and his time there. Anyone interested in tracing their family tree who had a relative in the town would probably find she had a dossier on them. The author successfully answered her questions and the story became a BBC documentary, which I’m keen to watch.
Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story has lovely colour-plates, but as I read this I wanted to see more. I went from looking at photos of the Van Gogh’s art on the internet to borrowing a book with larger-scale photos of his work which I referred to as I read. I would love to see this book as a coffee-table book with larger pictures.
The story also raised other questions and points of interest for me. The financial and emotional support Vincent Van Gogh received from his family, particularly his brother Theo was wonderful, particularly when the easy solution to the problem of Vincent’s mental health issues would have been to dump him into an asylum.
I was also very interested to learn why Vincent Van Gogh’s works were recognised as or become masterpieces after his death and not before. I think this was partly clever marketing, and am interested enough to look for other books on this subject to learn more.