Vincent Van Gogh, a famous Dutch painter, not only known for his paintings but also for cutting off his ear. However, not many people know what led him to cut off his ear, or even if he did it himself.
He had moved to a yellow house in Arles (in the south of France) with hopes of creating a place where artists would meet to talk, paint, and share artistic ideas. He befriended Paul Gauguin, and together in Arles they painted. However, things became more and more complicated between them, up to a point where Gauguin thought of moving to Paris and leaving Van Gogh and the yellow house.
The traditional story goes that on the night of December 23, 1888, the two men got into a very heated argument, and after it, Gauguin went for a walk. He heard Van Gogh approaching outside of the house, and as he turned, Gauguin saw him with a razor in hand. However, Van Gogh stopped and returned home, and Gauguin went along with his walk. Supposedly that night, Van Gogh cut off part of his left ear because the news of his friend had devastated him. He was so upset for ruining his friendship that he wanted to punish himself, hence the cutting of part of his ear. For this full detailed story, visit Van Gogh Gallery.
On the contrary, two German historians argue that that is not what happened. According to them (click for the detailed alternative story), the real version of what happened that night is that Gauguin was the one who injured Van Gogh, and not Van Gogh inflicting the injury upon himself. They argue that the reason of why it is not popularly known is because the men had a pact of silence and that they made up the widely known story as a means to protect each other, especially to protect Gauguin since Van Gogh was very fond of his friend.
It really is hard to say what happened, since there is substantial evidence to support both cases, but you can decide what to believe.
Here is a link to a newspaper reporting on the story a couple of days after it happened.
And here is a story from abcNEWS with some more interesting facts about the alternative story.