We all know about his wonderful paintings, but how much do we know about the man himself? It is fascinating to find out how little we actually know and since he died in 1890 certain things will always remain the subject of speculation.
The first point of interest is nobody knows for sure if Vincent was a right or a left handed artist. In all the correspondence between him and his closest friend Gauguin this is never mentioned. The main school of thought from dutch schools upholders that he was right handed. This is due because in one of his most famous self portraits he is clearly shown holding the palette with his left hand, but if we accept he painted the portrait using a mirror then he would have been holding the palette with his right hand, therefore he would have held the brushes and painted with his left hand.
Many people, however, argued that as an artist he would have easily been able to reverse the hand holding the palette to give an accurate idea of which hand he used to paint, as an artist myself I would always show myself as left handed because that is what I actually am. One more point of complexity. Although there have been many left handed artists, Michaelangelo and Leonardo to name just two. At the time of Van Gogh's life, left handedness was associated with the devil. Being left handed was highly discouraged. The French for left is "sinistre" and the French for clumsy is "maladriot" or literally bad at right. To paint using the left hand would be something to be practiced as discretely as possible.
The second point of discussion is his famously, partly severed ear. The standard line of thought is that he cut off part of his own ear and then presented it to a prostitute he had fallen in love with. A more modern theory says that actually Gauguin cut off Van Gogh's ear in an argument which had gotten out of hand. It may be that they shared a love for the same woman. It is known, however, that Gauguin was an expert with a sword, and that he was a burly man who would not have been afraid to wield it. It is also recorded that Van Gogh's brother, Theo, once wrote, "It is as well that Gauguin was not armed with a more modern weapon". Was Theo referring to this argument and just being grateful that Vincent had escaped with his life. Did the pair decide to cover up the truth. Gauguin continued to write to Van Gogh in very fond terms, right up until his unfortunate death. If they argued then this is never mentioned in Gauguin's letters.
Again this will probably remain an unsolved mystery. How strange that we know his paintings so well and yet so little is known about the man.