Disaster struck on Christmas Eve, 1888. Physically and emotionally exhausted, van Gogh snapped under the strain. He argued with Gauguin and, reportedly, chased him with a razor and cut off the lower half of his own left ear. A sensational news story reported that a deranged van Gogh then visited a brothel near his home and delivered the bloody body part to a woman named Rachel, telling her, “Guard this object carefully.” The 21st-century art historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, however, examined contemporary police records and the artists’ correspondence and concluded, in Van Gogh’s Ohr: Paul Gaugin und der Pakt des Schweigens (2008; “Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence”), that it was actually Gauguin who mutilated van Gogh’s ear and that he did so with a sword. Whatever transpired, van Gogh took responsibility and was hospitalized; Gauguin left for Paris.
The portraits gave Van Gogh his best opportunity to earn. He believed they were "the only thing in painting that moves me deeply and that gives me a sense of the infinite."[223][226] He wrote to his sister that he wished to paint portraits that would endure, and that he would use colour to capture their emotions and character rather than aiming for photographic realism.[227] Those closest to Van Gogh are mostly absent from his portraits; he rarely painted Theo, Van Rappard or Bernard. The portraits of his mother were from photographs.[228]
Van Gogh created more than 43 self-portraits between 1885 and 1889.[230][note 13] They were usually completed in series, such as those painted in Paris in mid-1887, and continued until shortly before his death.[231] Generally the portraits were studies, created during introspective periods when he was reluctant to mix with others, or when he lacked models, and so painted himself.[223][232]

Van Gogh's mother came from a prosperous family in The Hague,[19] and his father was the youngest son of a minister.[20] The two met when Anna's younger sister, Cornelia, married Theodorus's older brother Vincent (Cent). Van Gogh's parents married in May 1851 and moved to Zundert.[21] His brother Theo was born on 1 May 1857. There was another brother, Cor, and three sisters: Elisabeth, Anna, and Willemina (known as "Wil"). In later life Van Gogh remained in touch only with Willemina and Theo.[22] Van Gogh's mother was a rigid and religious woman who emphasised the importance of family to the point of claustrophobia for those around her.[23] Theodorus's salary was modest, but the Church supplied the family with a house, a maid, two cooks, a gardener, a carriage and horse, and Anna instilled in the children a duty to uphold the family's high social position.[24]
During the last six or seven months of the year 1889, he has also created at least fifteen paintings of olive trees, a subject which he considered as demanding and compelling.[251] Among these works are Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background (1889), about which in a letter to his brother Van Gogh wrote, "At last I have a landscape with olives".[250]While in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh spent time outside the asylum, where he painted trees in the olive groves. In these works natural life is rendered as gnarled and arthritic as if a personification of the natural world, which are, according to Hughes, filled with "a continuous field of energy of which nature is a manifestation".[214]
On 27 July 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a 7mm Lefaucheux à broche revolver.[186][187] There were no witnesses and he died 30 hours after the incident.[160] The shooting may have taken place in the wheat field in which he had been painting, or a local barn.[188] The bullet was deflected by a rib and passed through his chest without doing apparent damage to internal organs – probably stopped by his spine. He was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended to by two doctors, but without a surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. The doctors tended to him as best they could, then left him alone in his room, smoking his pipe. The following morning Theo rushed to his brother's side, finding him in good spirits. But within hours Vincent began to fail, suffering from an untreated infection resulting from the wound. He died in the early hours of 29 July. According to Theo, Vincent's last words were: "The sadness will last forever".[189][190][191][192]
Nevertheless, the twelve customers selected the colors and styles they desired, and were asked to return later in the afternoon to pick up their purchases. Paul Van Doren and Lee then rushed to the factory to manufacture the selected shoes. When the customers returned that afternoon to pick up their shoes, Paul Van Doren and Gordon C. Lee realized that they had forgotten to maintain a cash reserve to provide change to customers. The customers were therefore given the shoes and asked to return the following day with their payments. All twelve of the customers returned the following day to pay for their items.[6]
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After Van Gogh's first exhibitions in the late 1880s, his reputation grew steadily among artists, art critics, dealers and collectors.[262] In 1887 André Antoine hung Van Gogh's alongside works of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, at the Théâtre Libre in Paris; some were acquired by Julien Tanguy.[263] In 1889 his work was described in the journal Le Moderniste Illustré by Albert Aurier as characterised by "fire, intensity, sunshine".[264] Ten paintings were shown at the Société des Artistes Indépendants, in Brussels in January 1890.[265] French president Marie François Sadi Carnot was said to have been impressed by Van Gogh's work.[266]
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The portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by Van Gogh's Dutch upbringing; the patchworks of fields and avenues appear flat and lacking perspective, but excel in their use of colour.[117] His new-found appreciation is seen in the range and scope of his work. In March 1888 he painted landscapes using a gridded "perspective frame"; three of the works were shown at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. In April, he was visited by the American artist Dodge MacKnight, who was living nearby at Fontvieille.[118][119] On 1 May 1888, for 15 francs per month, he signed a lease for the eastern wing of the Yellow House at 2 place Lamartine. The rooms were unfurnished and had been uninhabited for months.[120]
The portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by Van Gogh's Dutch upbringing; the patchworks of fields and avenues appear flat and lacking perspective, but excel in their use of colour.[117] His new-found appreciation is seen in the range and scope of his work. In March 1888 he painted landscapes using a gridded "perspective frame"; three of the works were shown at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. In April, he was visited by the American artist Dodge MacKnight, who was living nearby at Fontvieille.[118][119] On 1 May 1888, for 15 francs per month, he signed a lease for the eastern wing of the Yellow House at 2 place Lamartine. The rooms were unfurnished and had been uninhabited for months.[120]
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