Van Gogh, Vincent (Dutch, 1853-1890)

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe

Reference Type:
In December of 1888, when Paul Gauguin was visiting Vincent van Gogh in the southern French village of Arles, a disagreement took place after which van Gogh cut off part of his earlobe, delivered it to a girl in a brothel, then returned home. The following morning he was taken to the hospital in Arles, where he met house surgeon Dr. Félix Rey (1867-1932). Dr. Rey also took care of van Gogh during two further hospitalizations, at the end of which townspeople signed a petition stating that the artist should be locked up. Dr. Rey argued against that, and when van Gogh decided to move to an asylum at Saint-Rémy, Rey helped him to make the transition. It has been suggested that van Gogh painted this self-portrait of himself calmly smoking a pipe to show Dr. Rey that he was on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, Dr. Rey did not care for modern styles in art, and for someone of the doctor’s conservative taste the bold, clashing colors and lack of realism in the forms might have seemed like a further manifestation of van Gogh’s illness. It can only be wondered what might have happened if Dr. Rey had had a more sympathetic view of modern art. Notes by Mariann Smith
Mental Disorders
Physician-Patient Relations
Private Collection