Woman Gifted With Van Gogh’s Ear Identified 128 Years Later

One of art history's biggest mysteries is solved.

Vincent Van Gogh Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear (1889). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Vincent Van Gogh Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear (1889). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After 130 years shrouded in mystery, the recipient of Van Gogh’s ear has been revealed.

According to research conducted by the Art Newspaper, Gabrielle Berlatier, a farmer’s daughter who lived north of Arles, France, received the severed ear in 1888, when she was working as a maid in a brothel.

The woman was mentioned in Bernadette Murphy’s recent book Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story, although her name was not printed because of her descendant’s wish to keep the information private.

After contracting rabies from a dog bite, Berlatier had to undergo treatment in Paris to save her life. The 18-year-old’s medical expenses put her family into debt, forcing her to find work wherever she could.

A year after he gave the ear to Berlatier, the artist writes in a letter to his brother Theo in 1889: “Yesterday I went back to see the girl I went to when I went out of my mind.” A footnote states that “Van Gogh had offered his severed ear to ‘a certain Rachel’ (la nommée Rachel) at ‘brothel No. 1,'” noting that she was a prostitute. However, Murphy writes in her book that the recipient of the ear was too young to be a registered sex worker.

Vincent Van Gogh The Night Café (1888). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Night Café (1888). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Other evidence suggests that Berlatier and Van Gogh may have known each other better than previously thought. The young woman may have also worked as a cleaner at the Café de la Gare, which was one of the artist’s favorite hangouts. Van Gogh even rented a room there from May to September 1888.

Art historians had long assumed that the recipient of Van Gogh’s ear was merely an acquaintance, but the suggestion that Berlatier may have worked at the café suggests that they could well have seen each other regularly.


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