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S16 Ep2

Van Gogh’s Ear

Premiere: 12/14/2016 | 00:00:32 | NR

The moment when Vincent van Gogh looked into a mirror, held up a blade and cut into his own ear defines his turbulent life and art. But what did he really do on the night of December 23, 1888, in the town of Arles? What was his state of mind? No one has been clear on the details.. until now. Bernadette Murphy has spent five years piecing together a meticulous picture of his life in Arles.

About the Episode

Even those with a scant knowledge of art know about the moment when artist Vincent van Gogh looked into a mirror, held up a blade and cut into his ear. The deed was dramatized by Irving Stone in his best-selling novel “Lust for Life,” and portrayed vividly by Kirk Douglas in the 1956 film.

But did Stone get it right?  What did van Gogh really do on the fateful night of December 23rd, 1888 in the town of Arles in southern France?  Afterwards, there was a successful effort by his family to play down the event.  His friend, artist Paul Gauguin, who was present, gave conflicting accounts.  Still others tried to profit from his local infamy. Generations have theorized about what really happened, but no one has unearthed the true details…until now.

Van Gogh’s Ear, broadcast as part of Secrets of the Dead, one of PBS’s longest running, limited primetime series, delves into the artist’s state of mind on the night he committed his notorious act of self-harm and offers fascinating evidence discovered by researcher Bernadette Murphy. The program premieres nationally Wednesday, December 14 at 10 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.)

Murphy, an independent researcher living in Provence, had long been intrigued by van Gogh’s story and spent seven years piecing together a meticulous picture of his life in Arles (1888-9); person by person, house by house, exploring closely his friends and his enemies.

Her detective work uncovered definitive long-lost evidence, which graphically reveals exactly what happened that night, who was involved and how it ultimately shaped van Gogh’s remarkable art. Murphy finally provides answers to the mystery that has divided art historians for decades.

Van Gogh’s Ear focuses on van Gogh’s time in Arles including the visit from artist Paul Gauguin which proved to be life-changing, weaving together a detailed timeline of the momentous events. Following Murphy’s meticulous research and a reexamination of van Gogh’s work, the film reveals the artist’s rollercoaster of emotions and his mental health, placing his actions in proper context for the first time.

On July 12, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published a book about her findings, Van Gogh’s Ear, featuring sixteen pages of full-color illustrations.

Secrets of the Dead: Van Gogh’s Ear is produced by Lion Television/an All3Media company and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in association with the BBC and ARTE France. Producer/Director is Jack MacInnes. Executive Producer for Lion TV is  Bill Locke.

Executive-in-Charge for WNET is Stephen Segaller. Executive Producer for WNET is Steve Burns. Supervising Producer for WNET is Stephanie Carter.



PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.