Van Gogh Self Portrait and Anna Karenina

7:00 AM

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889



I know when I get into a heated argument, my first urge is to cut off my ear and give it to a prostitute. But I hold back.Van Gogh, on the other hand, found that perfectly appropriate and really went with that urge. Gauguin exclaimed, “You crazy bastard! You have sliced off your ear!” and finished the argument with Van Gogh on top, one ear less than where he started. This self-destructive act to spite his competition and himself deeply moved his audience and shocked those around him. Looking at his Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear, the pain in his eyes is evident and unyielding. The cool, chaotic palate depicts Van Gogh’s inner turmoil as he stares blankly forward, colors spinning all around him.

The horse scene in Anna Karenina evokes these same chaotic emotions, from the tension of the race and the heartbreaking crash to Anna standing up and screaming for Vronsky, her wounded lover, in front of her husband and all of Russian high society. You want to scream with her, to stand and help her get to the man she risked everything for, but as a viewer you understand how self-destructive Anna is. She may not cut off her ear to spite anyone, but her entire life with Vronsky is in spite of her socially-acceptable life. Her end itself is self-destruction in its purest form, throwing herself under a train - the very thing that brought her to Vronsky in the first place.

Both of these examples show the peak of these real and fictional characters’ self-destructive tendencies, outside of their tragic ends. They may be destructive for different reasons, but both of their desperate acts in the heat of the moment are far too similar to the other. Anna’s terrified scream for the one she truly loves is the vocalized version of Van Gogh’s slicing off his ear to prove to Gauguin how much he meant to him in a desperate effort to get him not to go back to Paris. The piece shows the static aftermath of this act, while the scene from Anna Karenina is the exact tipping point into her downward spiral. Both are equally tense and foreboding. It makes me not want to know what happens to them, makes me want to save them from themselves… but I can’t.

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