Vincent Van Gogh May Have Cut off His Entire Ear


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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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.


Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.


Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.


If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.


While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.


Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

Dan Bell
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.


All images by Dan Bell


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