Van Gogh and Gauguin: Electric Arguments and Utopian Dreams

By Bradley Collins | Go to book overview
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5
Electric Arguments

"Le Bon Vincent" and
"Le Grièche Gauguin"

I

Vincent's ear cutting casts a long shadow over every aspect of his sojourn with Gauguin. It endows casual remarks, subtle shifts in painterly technique, and even changes in the weather with teleological significance. Did Gauguin's spirited defense of Ingres push Vincent closer to a breakdown? Did newspaper articles on Jack the Ripper plant violent thoughts in his overstimulated brain? Did four days of nonstop rain drive him over the edge? Although a mental collapse and even a suicide attempt would seem probable, if not inevitable, outcomes of Vincent's already troubled history, the stubborn particulars of the ear cutting remain intractably mysterious. Why a razor? Why an ear? Why then? This compels a desperate search for clues in everything that went before and has inspired a dizzying profusion of theories. One psychologist has, in fact, identified no less than thirteen explanatory models for Vincent's bizarre act. 1 These range from the impact of the bull's severed ear in the local bullfights to an interpretation of the ear cutting as a symbolic self-castration. The scrutiny of every moment leading to the climactic event also makes the cohabitation of the Yellow House appear to have stretched over an epic period. Gauguin himself in his memoir, Avant et après, stated that it felt like a century. Yet, as art his

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