by 1888, Van Gogh was living with Paul Gauguin in Arles, France after an unsuccessful attempt to sell any of his paintings in Paris. Gauguin and Van Gogh were at constant odds; Van Gogh had no sense of decent living (crazy creative type) and Gauguin hated this about him. On Christmas Eve in 1888, an argument between them turned into a fight and Van Gogh attacked Gauguin with a razor. Van Gogh didn't manage to cut Gauguin and locked himself in his room.
Van Gogh drank himself stupid for the remainder of the nite and regretted lashing out at Gauguin. He hoped that if he resorted to self-mutilation as a sign of remorse, he could make amends with his room mate. He cut his ear from the top of the lobe on down at an angle while standing in front of the mirror.
Still drunk and upset, Van Gogh wrapped the severed ear piece and walked to the local bordello. Caked in the blood of the unwrapped ear injury, he found a prostitute, Rachel (he had a crush on her) and gave her the handkerchief containing his ear piece. She passed out, naturally, and the bordello erupted into chaos. Van Gogh was found asleep in bed the following morning.
The struggling artist spent a year in the asylum and shot himself in the chest with a pistol two years after his 'vacation' to the loony bin.
--source: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader (Plunge Into History edition)