In a new book, Van Goghs Ohr: Paul Gauguin und der Pakt des Schweigens (Van Gogh's ear: Paul Gauguin and the pact of silence), German scientists Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans tell the story of what happened Christmas Eve 1888 in the French city of Arles where van Gogh was residing. After ten years of research (..!) the scientists say they are sure it was painter Paul Gauguin who cut off his friend and colleague's ear after a fight.
According to the official version, the Dutch painter cut off his own ear with a razor after a row with Gauguin in 1888. Van Gogh then walked into a brothel and presented the severed ear to a prostitute called Rachel before going home to sleep.
Van Gogh was living in the "yellow house" in Arles at the time and Gauguin, whom Van Gogh admired, was his guest. Kaufman and Wildegans say the two painters were having an argument about a prostitute called Rachel and about their visions on painting. Gauguin announced he was leaving Arles for good but Van Gogh stopped him on the street.
Kaufman told The Guardian: "Near the brothel, about 300 metres from the yellow house, there was a final encounter between them: Vincent might have attacked him, Gauguin wanted to defend himself and to get rid of this 'madman'. He drew his weapon [a sabre], made some movement in the direction of Vincent and by that cut off his left ear." Kaufmann said it was not clear if it was an accident or intentional.
Kaufman and Wildegans point to a scetch Van Gogh made of the severed ear with the word "ictus", the Latin term for a 'hit' in fencing.
They also cite correspondence between Vincent and his brother, Theo, in which the painter hints at what happened without directly breaking the "pact of silence" he apparently made made with Gauguin.
Kaufmann told the Daily Telegraph: "He writes that it's lucky Gauguin doesn't have a machine gun or other firearms."