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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear and Japanese Print

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(2):130-131. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2007.42.
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On January 7, 1889, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) returned home to the Yellow House following his notorious ear-cutting episode. The nature of his recovery in the hospital suggested to his doctors a diagnosis of larvate (mesial temporal lobe) epilepsy with hallucinations aggravated by poor diet, alcohol and absinthe abuse, and chronic stress.2The police initially assumed that Vincent was dead because they saw blood on towels in the lower 2 rooms of the Yellow House. He had cut off the lower part of his left ear, probably severing the left posterior auricular artery. His housemate, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), alarmed when Vincent was behaving strangely the evening before, had slept at a local hotel. When he arrived at the Yellow House around 7 AMon the morning after the ear-cutting episode, shortly after the police, he was arrested and accused by an officer of killing Vincent. However, when they all entered Vincent's room, it was soon clear that he was still alive but sleeping deeply. Gauguin left the house without talking to Vincent and contacted Theo van Gogh, Vincent's loyal brother and Gauguin's art dealer. Theo arrived from Paris that evening but, realizing there was nothing further that he could do, made arrangements with a local Dutch Reformed Church pastor to monitor Vincent's hospital progress and report back to him.1Theo returned to Paris on that Christmas day. Gauguin refused to visit Vincent in the hospital in Arles and returned with Theo to Paris; Vincent and Gauguin were never to meet in person again.

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Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch. Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear and Japanese Print, 1889. Oil on canvas, 60.5 × 50 cm. The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London (http://www.artandarchitecture.org.uk/images/gallery/580145e8.html).

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Figure 1.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch. Oiran (The Courtesan) (After Eisen), 1887. Oil on canvas, 60 × 105 cm. van Gogh Museum (Vincent van Gogh Foundation), Amsterdam (http://www3.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=2122&lang=en).

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Figure 2.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch. Self-Portrait as Japanese Monk (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin), 1888. Oil on canvas, 61 × 50 cm. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums/Bequest from the Collection of Maurice Wertheim, Class 1906/The Bridgeman Art Library (http://www.artmuseums.harvard.edu/exhibitions/fogg/wertheim.html).

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Figure 3.

Sato Torakiyo, Japanese. Geisha in a Landscape, c 1870-1880. Colored woodblock print, 60 × 43 cm. The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London (http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/newsletter/spring_2005/van_gogh.shtml).

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