PBS will premiere Van Gogh’s Ear on Wednesday, December 14, (check local listings) and, if you watch, see if you can find David Kessler ’70. The documentary is based on a recent book by Bernadette Murphy, which reveals much that was unknown or contested about the life of the famous painter. Among those mysteries: the accurate story behind the self-mutilation of his ear. What did van Gogh really do on the fateful night of December 23, 1888, in the town of Arles in southern France?
Murphy, an independent researcher living in Provence, had long been intrigued by van Gogh’s story and spent seven years piecing together a meticulous picture of his life in Arles (1888-89); person by person, house by house, exploring closely his friends and his enemies. Her detective work uncovered definitive long-lost evidence, the key document of which she found with the help of David Kessler in the University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, where David works.
The show, part of PBS’s Secrets of the Dead series, will reveal exactly what happened the night of December 23, who was involved and how it ultimately shaped van Gogh’s remarkable art. It provides answers to the mystery that has divided art historians for decades and reveals the artist’s roller coaster of emotions and his mental health, placing his actions in proper context for the first time. In the San Francisco Bay area, the show will be air on KQED at 10 p.m.. “I hope you get a chance to watch,” said David. “I’m hoping I manage to stay up that late myself!”