The mystery behind the most famous mutilation in art history may finally have been solved, the Times of London reported.

A scholar has found evidence that a distraught Vincent van Gogh slashed his ear after learning that his brother, Theo, on whom he depended financially and emotionally, was about to get married.

Martin Bailey, who has written a book on van Gogh and curated two exhibitions of his work, devised his theory after meticulous detective work on a letter in a painting that the artist completed soon after he injured himself.

Bailey concludes that this letter was written by Theo from Paris in December 1888 and contained news of his engagement. This, he believes, tipped Vincent, who was already psychologically disturbed, into self-harm.

“Vincent was fearful that he might lose his brother’s emotional and financial support,” writes Bailey in the January edition of The Art Newspaper.

For years disputes have raged over what really happened to van Gogh’s ear just before Christmas 1888. Some have blamed his mental illness, others have said he was driven mad by lead in his paints. The breakdown of his friendship with Paul Gauguin, his fellow artist, has also been cited, although it is claimed that Gauguin made up this story himself.

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