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The Great Van Gogh Murder Mystery

Posted on Oct 17, 2011
Wikimedia Commons

The authors of a new book claim that Vincent Van Gogh did not kill himself, but was probably shot by a couple of drunken teenagers playing cowboys and artists with a loaded gun.

It’s easy to dismiss this sort of revelation as an attempt to sell books, but the BBC reports that the authors spent 10 years researching 28,000 notes with 20 translators to reach their conclusions, so they at least deserve a second glance.

Mortally wounded, Van Gogh said he shot himself, but he may have been covering for the two boys, whom he knew.  —PZS


It has long been thought that he shot himself in a wheat field before returning to the inn where he later died.

But author Steven Naifeh said it was “very clear to us that he did not go into the wheat fields with the intention of shooting himself”.

“The accepted understanding of what happened in Auvers among the people who knew him was that he was killed accidentally by a couple of boys and he decide to protect them by accepting the blame.”

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By diamond, October 19, 2011 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

What absolute garbage. van Gogh had a nervous breakdown after his conflict with Gauguin led to the end of his dream of the ‘artist’s studio’ in the yellow house where they and other painters would work together and van Gogh would no longer be isolated. It was after Gauguin left that he plunged into a suicidal depression and mutilated his ear and sent part of it to a prostitute. In a letter written shortly before he shot himself he said that he had given everything to art and had now lost ‘half his mind’ to it as well. The mutilated ear was self-harm and suicide is the ultimate self-harm. Few people would be brave enough to give everything to art let alone lose ‘half’ their minds to it. An interesting fact is that the van Gogh’s had another son before Vincent, also born on van Gogh’s birthday and also named Vincent, who died in infancy.

The irony is that Van Gogh died in poverty but ‘Sunflowers’ sold for around $20 million, creating a sensation at the time because no painting had ever sold for that price before. An English artist once said that people buy van Gogh’s paintings for millions because ‘they want to be him’, presumably meaning that they want to paint like him or be a genius like him. Otherwise it would simply mean they were Masochists. Why invent a story of accidental or intentional killing when it’s obvious that in his depressed and impoverished state, convinced that he had failed as an artist and a human being he despaired and shot himself? These kind of stories are just run to cause a fuss and make money: the same as the people who say Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. And now they’ve even made a film based on this idiocy. Some of these cranks say Shakespeare couldn’t have written plays because he was an actor. That would have been news to Harold Pinter.

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By JackAttack, October 19, 2011 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

Vincent Van Gogh was the subject of
one of the most successful
posthumous marketing campaigns
in art history.  His brother Theo’s
wife assiduously promoted his art
and his image that was ripe for the
emerging modernity of the time.

No need to question the
circumstances of Van Gogh’s death
when his suicide was so essential to
the overall thrust of the image of
the suffering artist whose greatness
is only recognized after his demise. 
That class privilege would trump the
“facts” should surprise no one. 
Whether the “facts” are defensible
has no relation to the number of
years, notes, and translators

A good backstory is useful in selling
art.  To appreciate Van Gogh’s art, one
has only to view it.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 19, 2011 at 12:15 am Link to this comment

mzh: I believe he shot himself during a period of depression.

The gun shot was oblique to the chest, according to the coroner. (Meaning not parallel to the chest.) Most suicides by gun are to the head.

He would have had to bent over to do shoot himself obliquely with a pistol. Besides, he had carried his paints to the farm. Would even a manic-depressive with the intent of committing suicide do that?

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 18, 2011 at 10:44 pm Link to this comment

French art historians are adding a fact that others have not picked up. Everybody talks about the “boys” - but who were the boys?

They were in fact not residents of Auvers-sur-Oise but were vacationing from Paris. And they were from a family that was very well off - which is why one of the boys had a “cowboy suit” on. No farm boy from Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890 would have been able to afford such a suit.

Van Gogh was shot in the court of a farmhouse that he regularly visited to paint. He was probably hassled by the two Parisian adolescents and the shot could indeed be accidental since the gun supposedly did not work properly.

From a French point of view, one can imagine that the family wanted to cover-up the incident and that Van Gogh went along with them.

Frankly, given Van Gogh’s condition, it should not be ruled out that the family may have paid some money to Van Gogh to not formally depose a charge that the police would have been obliged to investigate.

It is entirely possible that Van Gogh realized that what happened was an accident and tried to cover up for the boys out of some misplaced regard for their standing. In fact, the boys were not exactly “boys”, they were adolescents.

Rene Secretan was the name of the adolescent who supposedly shot Van Gogh. The authors of the book are said to have uncovered an interview Secretan gave in 1956—the year before he died—where he expressed guilt at the way he and his brother had treated van Gogh.

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By ugg boots uk, October 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I get satisfaction from examining the report, too. It?? effortless to know that the trip such as this could be the top celebration in kinds life.

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By mzh, October 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Van Gogh was a classic undiagnosed manic-depressive… when manic he would
paint with a frenzy for months to the point he would pass out with exhaustion. 
When he recovered he would be depressed and would often burn all of the
paintings he had just completed.  In both states he was fairly anti-social and often
got in fights.  I believe he shot himself during a period of depression.

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By berniem, October 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment

Who was actually being protected here? Two slackers playing cowboys and Indians(of all things!)or a wigged-out Bohemian contributing to the delinquency of minors?

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By Carl Quinlan, October 17, 2011 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not only that, but he never cut off his own ear. A piece of it was lopped off by Gauguin, who was waving a foil around in a macho game of “swordfight”.

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, October 17, 2011 at 6:57 am Link to this comment

But did he eat oil paint???

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