One of the art world’s most enduring mysteries was put to rest this week, when the unknown woman who received Vincent Van Gogh’s severed ear was revealed to be a farmer’s daughter named Gabrielle Berlatier.
The revelation was contrary to the 130-year-old belief that the painter gave his bloody appendage to a prostitute named Rachel, during a fit of madness.
Experts said the recipient was actually Berlatier, who toiled as a maid in a house of ill repute in Arles to pay off her medical bills after being attacked by a rabid dog.
The Art Newspaper reported the identity of the woman, who was referred to in Bernadette Murphy’s new book, “Van Gogh’s War: The True Story.”
The newspaper said it tracked Berlatier’s name in the records of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, where the 18-year-old had been treated for rabies after being bitten by a dog owned by the farm’s shepherd on Jan. 8, 1888.
She was disfigured when her wound was cauterized with a red-hot iron, but her life was saved when she received a new anti-rabies vaccine in Paris.
“She had had a very nasty scar on her arm following the bite,” Murphy told The Daily Telegraph. “Van Gogh was somebody who was very touched by people in difficulty. I feel that he wanted to give her this gift of flesh.”
Berlatier, who later married and lived a long life, kept her encounter with Van Gogh a secret, The Art Newspaper reported.