Van Gogh playing it by ear


100104_r19185_p646Pardon the pun in the title but I couldn’t resist.

On December 23  1888, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, suffering from severe depression, cut off the lower part of his left ear with a razor while staying in Arles, France.He later documented the event in a painting titled Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.



Van Gogh and Gauguin visited Montpellier in December 1888, where they saw works by Courbet and Delacroix in the Musée Fabre.Their relationship began to deteriorate; Van Gogh admired Gauguin and wanted to be treated as his equal, but Gauguin was arrogant and domineering, which frustrated Van Gogh. They often quarrelled; Van Gogh increasingly feared that Gauguin was going to desert him, and the situation, which Van Gogh described as one of “excessive tension”, rapidly headed towards crisis point.

The official version about van Gogh’s legendary act of self-harm usually goes that the disturbed Dutch painter severed his left ear lobe with a razor blade in a fit of lunacy after he had a row with Gauguin one evening shortly before Christmas 1888.

Bleeding heavily, van Gogh then wrapped it in cloth, walked to a nearby bordello and presented the severed ear to a prostitute, who fainted when he handed it to her.

He then went home to sleep in a blood-drenched bed, where he almost bled to death, before police, alerted by the prostitute, found him the next morning.

He was unconscious and immediately taken to the local hospital, where he asked to see his friend Gauguin when he woke up, but Gauguin refused to see him.


However rumours have it the  Vincent van Gogh may have made up the whole story to protect his friend Gauguin, a keen fencer, who actually lopped it off with a sword during a heated argument.

Some historians say that the real version of events has never surfaced because the two men both kept a “pact of silence” – Gauguin to avoid prosecution.



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Degenerate art was a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe Modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German, Jewish, or Communist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions. These included being dismissed from teaching positions, being forbidden to exhibit or to sell their art, and in some cases being forbidden to produce art.

Degenerate Art also was the title of an exhibition, held by the Nazis in Munich in 1937, consisting of modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by text labels deriding the art. Designed to inflame public opinion against modernism, the exhibition subsequently traveled to several other cities in Germany and Austria.


Of course this also highlighted the stupidity of the Nazi ideology because some of these pieces of art were priceless. The only real degenerate artist was Adolf Hitler himself.

The painting at the top of this blog is ‘The Beach’ by Max Beckmann .Below are some further examples of “degenerate art” and also other art pieces created during the Holocaust.

A painting of Journalist Sylvia von Harden, by Otto Dix. Dated 1926

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Portrait of the Writer Max Hermann-Neisse” by George Grosz (1925).


Bathers With A Turtle Henri Matisse


Vincent van Gogh’s work found itself under Nazi scrutiny due to his Expressionist influences. The distorted swirls and cascading colors were too modern, thus making them too degenerate.


Following are some drawings by Leo Yeni.

In fall 1943, Leo and his family fled north to the mountains near Varese, close to the Swiss border. His family decided that Leo should escape into Switzerland. He was apprehended and interrogated by the Swiss Police at the border and denied entry. With the aid of smugglers, he tried again. He was arrested and detained in a military cell in Lugano as an illegal alien. After reviewing his papers, a Swiss Captain told Leo that he was accepted as a refugee and he was interned in a detention camp. Leo was held in Unterwalden (Bellinzona), Plenterplatz in Zurich, and Lajoux in the Jura Bernoise. Through HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the Red Cross, Leo was able to contact a maternal relative, Rene Della Torre in the United States. Leo’s parents had been arrested by Italian Fascist police on December 6, 1943. They were jailed in Varese and then taken to Milan where they were deported by the Germans to Auschwitz concentration camp on January 30, 1944, and killed on February 6.

The war ended in May 1945. Leo resumed his education at L’Ecole d’Art in Switzerland. In July 1946, Leo emigrated from Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchatel, Switzerland, to America aboard the Marine Flasher. He settled in New York and his relatives helped him find a job as a designer. Leo had a successful career as a textile designer. He was active in local artists’ organizations and his artwork was frequently exhibited. He later taught painting. He married Rose Baumoel (1917-1992) on January 20, 1947. Rose was a school teacher. The couple had two children. Leo became a naturalized citizen in 1949. Leo, 91, passed away on February 7, 2011.




Ervin Abadi, a Hungarian Jew from Budapest, was an aspiring young artist when WWII began. He was drafted into the Hungarian labor service in the early 1940s. Abadi managed to escape, but was recaptured and immediately deported to Bergen-Belsen. When the camp was liberated, his condition was such that he required extended hospitalization. During his convalescence, he created dozens of works of holocaust art, including ink drawings, pencil and ink sketches and watercolors.
After recuperating Abadi returned to Budapest, where he published a collection of his watercolors in 1946. After becoming disillusioned with the communist regime in Hungary, he moved to Israel, where he continued to publish in Hungarian and Hebrew. He died in Israel in 1980. Below pictures are dated 1945.


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