Do We Know Who Received Van Gogh’s Fabled Ear?
A mystery that has baffled people for nearly 130 years is now being brought into limelight due to unearthing of certain interesting facts by The Art Newspaper. The fabled severed ear of Van Gogh is well known to have been given to a young woman in a brothel, the name however is believed to be Gabrielle Berlatier who was a farmer’s daughter.
Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story a book by Bernadette Murphy published by Chatto & Windus recently referred to this woman, however unnamed. The author confesses to have promised Gabrielle’s descendants to mention her surname only when the family permits her to and wishes to respect their wish to keep it all private. And, she kept her word.
Keeping the meticulous details as a reference, researchers in the art journalistic world followed it up using an open archive. Her name was finally tracked down in the records of Paris’s Institut Pasteur where she received treatment for rabies. It is her identification that has managed to shed some light on the peculiar incident where Van Gogh cut his entire ear off.
It is the medical records in Institut Pasteur that revealed that Gabrielle Berlatier, the 18 year old lived in a village 10km east of Arles named Mas de Faravelle in Moulès in Provence. It was in the year 1888 that she was bitten by the farm shepherd’s dog on her hand which caused them to cauterize the wound with a red hot iron followed by her being taken to Paris for a an anti-rabies vaccine that saved her life.
Alphonse Robert, the policeman who was the first to reach the brothel where Van Gogh cut off his ear, was quoted in an article written in 1936 where he mentions the name of the girl as Gaby. At the time of the incident, the newspapers were reporting the woman to be named as Rachel, which might have been a nickname.
Murphy, in her book further mentions that Gabrielle was in fact too young to be registered as a prostitute in the brothel, but worked there as a maid. The tragedy is paramount for the teenager who was recently recovering from a lethal dog bite was working at such hours in a brothel. The reason for her working in such conditions may also be due to the considerable debt that family went under to get Gabrielle treated for the dog bite first locally and then in Paris.
It has also been suggested by some evidence that Gabrielle also worked as a cleaner at Café de la Gare which was owned by Joseph and Marie Ginoux who interestingly enough were good friends of Van Gogh. The artist was believed to have been staying there for a short time in the year 1888 before he moved on to sleeping a few doors away in The Yellow House.
Café de la Gare tended to attract some questionable patrons due to it being open all night long. It was only a short time before the horrid ear incident that Van Gogh had completed his work The Night Café where he claims that it is by spending time within a café that you may ruin your life, go mad or even commit crimes. In a conversation with his friend Emile Bernard he is known to have said though Café de la Gare was not really a brothel, it was not entirely rare to see a prostitute at some table with her clients from time to time. In his painting of The Night Café, he has actually shown such a couple sitting towards the back of the room.
Up until now it was so believed that the recipient of the artist’s ear was one of his casual acquaintances or some prostitute or the Madame at the brothel where the incident unfolded. The trivia that Gabrielle knew Joseph and Marie Ginoux, the owners of Café de la Gare also hints at the possibility of Van Gogh and Gabrielle seeing each other quite frequently.
At a tender age Gabrielle suffered a violent dog bite, was probably traumatized by a temporarily deranged artist in a short span of time. She however later got married and lived to a ripe old age, keeping this whole traumatic episode with Van Gogh as a guarded secret.