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Van Gogh's Ear: The True Story by…
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Van Gogh's Ear: The True Story

by Bernadette Murphy

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753251,265 (4.28)2
"The best-known and most sensational event in Vincent van Gogh's life is also the least understood ... Murphy [posits], for the first time, the true story of this long-misunderstood incident, sweeping away decades of myth and giving us a glimpse of a troubled but brilliant artist at his breaking point"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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BBC radio program, 5 15-minute segments. Wow, what a great story. Really colorful and enticing... and tragic. I'm going to watch the corresponding TV program, but I think the book must be great. ( )
  Lit_Cat | Dec 9, 2017 |
A very impressive piece of historical detective work by an avowedly amateur researcher who sets out to discover exactly why Vincent Van Gogh, one December night in 1888, cut off all or part of his ear and presented it to a young lady working in a local brothel. While this most famous self-mutilation in the history of art forms the centerpiece of Bernadette Murphy's investigation, she deals at length with the whole lead-up, delving in depth into Van Gogh's life in Arles. Her research is truly impressive. By sheer hard work, sifting through acres of documents, she actually locates in the records, the real stories of the ordinary people who interacted with Van Gogh, and along the way, slays a few popular myths. This is a superb, enthralling book, that really brings Van Gogh to life, not quite the tormented genius of popular myth, but more a young man with dreams who falls catastrophically ill. Great book, a must read for any Van Gogh fan. ( )
  drmaf | Oct 9, 2016 |
If people know anything at all about Vincent Van Gogh it is presumably that he cut off his ear and committed suicide. I think when I was younger I conflated these two incidents, somehow imagining he committed suicide by cutting off his ear. They were in fact separated by a couple of years during which van Gogh’s mental health deteriorated to a fatal degree.

Though Dutch, van Gogh spent the greater part of his painting life in France, and much of it in the city of Arles in Provence. By dint of circumstance Bernadette Murphy found herself living in Provence, not far from Arles, and while recuperating from illness decided to investigate van Gogh’s time there, and the events leading to his final capitulation.

She began by trying to establish how he came to cut off his ear, and, indeed, how much of it he removed. Like me, she had originally imagined that he had cut off the whole of his ear, though some simple experimentation she decided that that would not have been possible. The local press in late nineteenth century Arles contained a few references to a disturbance involving the artist, though details were sparse. Undeterred, this simply spurred her to search further, leading her to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and contact a range of academics all around the world.

The book is fascinating, not just for what it reveals about van Gogh’s descent into madness and despair, but also as a manual for a capable amateur undertaking academic research. Murphy learns the techniques of research as she goes along, and is eager to share her discoveries. The book works on so many separate levels: not just a biography of van Gogh but a potted guide to his art, and also that of Paul Gaugin who shared lodgings with the Dutchman in ‘The Yellow House’ (which was itself the subject of many of his paintings). Murphy also gives us a brief history of Arles, and a detailed topography of Provence. She pulls all this off with considerable brio, too. Though the subject matter is often challenging, and even gory, she writes with great clarity and engages the reader from the start. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Aug 24, 2016 |
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As painfully to pore upon a book
To seek the light of truth, while truth the while
Doth falsely blind the eyesight of his look.

William Shakespeare, Act I, scene i, Love's Labours Lost
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In honour of my parents, who, despite having eight children, gave me the precious gift of their time - my mother by teaching me to read before I started school and my father by taking me to a public library and, more importantly, showing me how to use it.
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