X. Was Gauguin able to accomplish such a precise strike with his sword?

 

Gauguin was an excellent fencer. He held the title of "Maître d'armes civiles" and possessed several sharp dueling weapons. It is documented that he challenged an adversary to a duel at least twice in his lifetime. We know also that he brought his fencing equipment with him to Arles.
In his memoirs (Avant et Après), he dedicates a long passage to his fencing career and skills (Intimated Journals, p. 91 – 95): He had learned the art of fencing at the "Institut Loriol", a preparatory school of the French navy at Joinville-le-Pont, and also at the Salle Hyacinthe in Paris. One of his masters there was the famous Augustin Grisier (1791 – 1865) who had taught sabre fencing even to the son of the Russian Tsar in St. Petersburg. During his stay in Pont-Aven (Brittany), Gauguin also gave fencing lessons, together with the local fencing master whom he claimed he helped improving his technique (Gauguin himself certainly also thought highly of his skill).

Therefore, it should not have been a problem for Gauguin to cut off Van Gogh's ear with a precise sabre strike without hurting Vincent's neck or shoulder. Besides, at that cold winter night Van Gogh was certainly wearing his thick green jacket that might have protected him. It might also have been a coincidence that the ear was hit when Gauguin waived his weapon in the direction of his agitated colleague. Both versions are feasible (either a deliberate and precise hit, or an accidental injury) and we will probably never know which one is right. The fact remains that it was Gauguin who caused the injury. Besides, it is remarkable that in both of his reports Gauguin stresses the fact that the ear was cut off "in a clear cut" and "close to the head". It almost seems like he was secretly proud of the precision of his hit.

  

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