The Mystery of Van Gogh's Ear

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The Mystery of Van Gogh's Ear


Everyone knows that Vincent van Gogh lopped off part of his ear and presented it in a bloodied parcel to a prostitute, a grotesquely extravagant gesture by a tormented soul on the very edge of reason.

Or maybe not. Former art history student Bernadette Murphy, who lives in Provence, has spent the last seven years trying to pin down what really happened that night in 1888 in the French town of Arles. What could Van Gogh have been thinking?

The story of the ear, fostered by Kirk Douglas’s hammy portrayal in the overblown movie, Lust for Life, has its doubters, some claiming Van Gogh never performed such a savage amputation.

But Murphy, with considerable application, sifted through files, documents and books to discover the true identity of the unfortunate recipient: a woman called Rachel. In a fascinating documentary, Jeremy Paxman takes Murphy through her discoveries and we accompany her to America – and a revelation.


Jeremy Paxman joins forces with `art sleuth' Bernadette Murphy in a bid to solve one of the greatest and bloodiest mysteries of the art world - why did Vincent Van Gogh take a blade to his own ear in December, 1888? The pair set out to discover why the Dutch post-impressionist chose to mutilate himself, and also to identify the unknown girl to whom he is reported to have given is severed ear. Their quest takes them from Vincent's former home in the south of France to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and along the way, they seek to determine the causes of the painter's debilitating mental turmoil. The answers they are looking for, however, might not lie in Europe. Instead, a library in California may hold crucial evidence that - if verified - could cause an art world sensation.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Jeremy Paxman
Presenter Bernadette Murphy
Director Jack MacInnes
Editor Richard Wilkinson
Executive Producer Bill Locke
Producer Jack MacInnes
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