From the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam comes this fantastic advertisement for their cafe. Do you get the joke? The quietly brilliant ad pictures a single coffee cup on a saucer, perfectly pristine except for the fact that its handle has been broken off. A mistake? To understand, it might help to take a look at one of van Gogh’s self portraits, namely, the 1889 “Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear.”
In late 1888, van Gogh had sunk into a period of depression. He fought with his fellow painter Gauguin and threatened the then more popular artist with a razor blade, fleeing the scene in a panic and ending up at the brothel that formed his most consistent human contact. Later, he sliced off his left ear and presented it wrapped in newspaper to a prostitute named Rachel. Gauguin found him and delivered him to the hospital, where he started the downward slide in mental health that ended his career. Though this is certainly not the only theory about what happened to Van Gogh’s ear.
Hence the bandage over van Gogh’s ear in the self portrait, and the visual pun of the museum’s cafe advertisement. Hopefully their coffee doesn’t have the same impact that absinthe did on the Impressionists.