Between 1885 and his death in 1890, Van Gogh appears to have been building an oeuvre,[221] a collection that reflected his personal vision, and could be commercially successful. He was influenced by Blanc's definition of style, that a true painting required optimal use of colour, perspective and brushstrokes. Van Gogh applied the word "purposeful" to paintings he thought he had mastered, as opposed to those he thought of as studies.[222] He painted many series of studies;[218] most of which were still lifes, many executed as colour experiments or as gifts to friends.[223] The work in Arles contributed considerably to his oeuvre: those he thought the most important from that time were The Sower, Night Cafe, Memory of the Garden in Etten and Starry Night. With their broad brushstrokes, inventive perspectives, colours, contours and designs, these paintings represent the style he sought.[219]
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After the altercation with Gauguin, Van Gogh returned to his room, where he was assaulted by voices and severed his left ear with a razor (either wholly or in part; accounts differ),[note 9] causing severe bleeding.[142] He bandaged the wound, wrapped the ear in paper, and delivered the package to a woman at a brothel Van Gogh and Gauguin both frequented.[142] Van Gogh was found unconscious the next morning by a policeman and taken to hospital,[145][146] where Félix Rey, a young doctor still in training, treated him. The ear was delivered to the hospital, but Rey did not attempt to reattach it as too much time had passed.[140]

Van Gogh learned about Fernand Cormon's atelier from Theo.[107] He worked at the studio in April and May 1886,[108] where he frequented the circle of the Australian artist John Peter Russell, who painted his portrait in 1886.[109] Van Gogh also met fellow students Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – who painted a portrait of him in pastel. They met at Julien "Père" Tanguy's paint shop,[108] (which was, at that time, the only place where Paul Cézanne's paintings were displayed). In 1886, two large exhibitions were staged there, showing Pointillism and Neo-impressionism for the first time, and bringing attention to Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Theo kept a stock of Impressionist paintings in his gallery on boulevard Montmartre, but Van Gogh was slow to acknowledge the new developments in art.[110]


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