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Vincent Van Gogh May Have Cut off His Entire Ear

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When famed Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh cut off his left ear in Arles, France, in December 1888, he may have chopped the whole thing off instead of simply slicing off a tiny piece, The New York Times reports.

Scholars had long debated the severity of van Gogh’s injury, but when author Bernadette Murphy was researching the artist’s later years for a book, she discovered new historical evidence: a letter written by Félix Rey—a doctor who treated van Gogh after he lost his ear—which contained a sketch of the mutilated organ. In the physician’s rendering, the painter had completely severed it from his head.

Some experts are skeptical of Murphy’s evidence, and say that witnesses who saw van Gogh after Dr. Rey treated him saw that he still had part of his ear. And a doctor who tended to van Gogh in 1890 made his own etching of the mangled body part. In his depiction, some of the ear’s outer portion still remains.

Aside from the ear's appearance, many aspects of the grisly incident remain a mystery more than a century later. For instance, nobody knows quite why van Gogh famously gave his ear to a woman working at a brothel, whom Murphy identified as a bar maid who had been injured by a dog. (Murphy, who tracked down the maid's living descendants while researching her book, believes van Gogh was offering her his own flesh in a misguided attempt to “heal” her wounds, The Telegraph reports.) Meanwhile, scholars still don’t know how van Gogh lost his ear, and theorize that he cut it off himself in a fit of depression, or that fellow artist and expert fencer Paul Gauguin sliced it off with a rapier after van Gogh threw a wine glass at him.

However, a new exhibit at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, “On the Verge of Insanity,” leans toward the mental illness explanation: It displays Félix Rey’s note and drawing alongside 25 paintings and previously unseen documents and artifacts, like the revolver van Gogh may have used to kill himself on July 29, 1890, in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. Together, the items paint a fuller portrait of the Dutch Impressionist’s declining mental health during the last years of his life. (Experts believe that van Gogh—who suffered from recurrent psychotic episodes, losses of consciousness, and vacillating moods—may have had temporal lobe epilepsy, bipolar disorder, or a combination of the two.)

“On the Verge of Insanity” opens on Friday, July 15 and runs until September 25. It coincides with the release of Murphy’s book, Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story, which will be the basis of a forthcoming BBC documentary.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel
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It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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