Lend Me An Ear

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In 1888, Paul Gauguin was a struggling forty year old painter who mostly survived by taking menial jobs and figuring out ways to scam government assistance programs. A former wealthy stockbroker and arts dealer, Paul had lost pretty much all of his money during a bad economic downturn a few years before. For whatever reason, this experience made Paul decide that he should totally be a full time artist, much to the chagrin of his Danish wife, who was left to be the sole breadwinner for the family. Not really being down with a grown man just moping around the house, Paul’s wife suggested that if he wanted to be a painter he should totally just go to Paris, probably figuring it was better to have him gone. After all, the woman had five children to raise, she didn’t need a sixth. Paul, happy as a clam at the suggestion, did just that.

Things were not easy for Paul in Paris, home to pretty much all struggling artists in the late-nineteenth century. Though he had managed to sell some paintings, by all appearances he was doomed to flounder about in obscurity. However, his luck finally changed when quite by a chance a man saw some of Paul’s paintings at a small gallery. Falling completely head over heels for the paintings, the man declared that Paul was one of the finest painters in the world and convinced his brother, a well known art dealer, to purchase several of them and hang them at the brother’s posh art gallery. This was quite a big break for Paul, since thanks to the well-known art dealer his work would finally be seen by a wealthier class of clientele. The name of the art dealer was Theo van Gogh, and the name of the brother was Vincent. Yeah, you can probably guess where this is going to go.

By 1888, Vincent was a struggling 35 year old artist who mostly survived thanks to the financial help of his brother Theo, who for some reason loved Vincent more than anything in the world despite the fact that Vincent was often times nuttier than a pile of squirrel shit. Vincent was known for manic episodes, during which he would create hundreds of paintings to the detriment of his health, surviving mostly on alcohol and pipe tobacco, and forgetting to eat to the point that his teeth would start to loosen. Vincent was also known for his passions. For a time he had wanted to be a priest, but he had given it up in favor of stalking his cousin to the point that his family had to stage an intervention, to which he responded by lighting his arm on fire and then living with a prostitute for close to a year. The two brothers then lived together for a time, until Vincent got thrown out of art school and became such a pain in the ass that Theo bought him a house in the town of Arles, 465 miles from Paris.

Anyways, when Paul Gauguin came into the picture, Vincent was all hot and heavy for his new idea of starting an art commune. Completely enraptured by Paul, Vincent convinced his brother Theo to convince Paul to move in with him. While less than enthusiastic about the idea of moving in with someone with severe mental issues, Paul eventually relented, giving in on the promise of free rent and the implied threat of Theo no longer displaying Paul’s work. Amazingly enough, things started out pretty fine. The two men got along well, sharing a studio, painting each others’ portraits, and visiting local brothels together. However, that only lasted a few weeks. It’s hard to say exactly when things went wrong, but it probably had something to do with the notoriously dickish Paul being rude about Vincent’s art. Vincent, who thought Paul was his new BFF, responded by see-sawing wildly between super clingy and out of his mind angry. Paul would often awaken in the middle of the night to find Vincent watching him sleep, and Vincent once threw a glass at Paul’s head, to which Paul responded by threatening to strangle Vincent in his sleep.

After nine weeks, Paul decided that enough was enough. On an appropriately dramatic rainy day, he packed his bags to move back to Paris. Vincent, watching his dreams of a commune collapse right before his eyes, went after his former friend with a straight razor. After Paul left in a bit of a hurry, Vincent decided he might as well kick things up a notch. He used the razor to cut off his ear, and then walked down to the brothel to give it to his favorite prostitute. This whole episode was a little much for Theo, who had his brother committed. Vincent would be in and out of asylums for the rest of his life, which wasn’t long since he shot himself a year and a half later. Theo, missing his brother terribly, went crazy and died six months later. As for Paul, being the classiest of dudes, he traveled to Tahiti, where he spent his time painting and fucking 14 year old local girls, some of which he impregnated, and all of which he gave syphilis. Paul lived out the rest of his total shitbag life in a thatched hut he called the House of Orgasms, dying of a likely opium overdose at the age of 54. Neither Paul or Vincent became famous artists until after their deaths, but their lives did inspire a lot of future aspiring artists to be as crazy and/or shitty of people as possible.