Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most famous and celebrated of all artists, with paintings such as ‘The Starry Night’, ‘Café Terrace at Night’ and ‘Sunflowers’ just a small example of the paintings he is known for throughout the world. Vincent Van Gogh paintings are amongst the highest paid for paintings sought after by art lovers and art investors alike. ‘Wheatfield with Cypresses’, ‘Portrait of Dr. Gatchet’, ‘Irises’ and ‘Self-portrait without Beard’ have brought record prices in the late 20th century and his works art expected to continue skyrocketing in price in the already very busy 21st century art market. He is of course also well known for his madness, his bouts of mental illness that led him to famously cutting off his ear and suicide. But was it really suicide or was it murder?
The authors of the latest Dutch-impressionist’s biography “Van Gogh: The Life” knew they would stir controversy by disputing the widely-held belief that the artist committed suicide with a gun while painting in a French wheat field. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, who have previously won a Pulitzer prize for their biography of American artist Jackson Pollock spent ten years researching their book and proposed the new theory, that Van Gogh was shot not be himself, but by local bullies who were a constant bane in van Gogh’s already tormented life.
Naifeh and Smith uncovered some evidence that point inconclusively, they acknowledge in the direction of manslaughter.
Their first piece of evidence is a candid and self incriminating interview with respectable partisan banker Rene Secretan given in 1956. In the interview he recalled in great detail how he and his brother had tormented the artists during their teenage years in the Auvers. As the target of bullying for much of his life, the red-headed painter – who suffered from frontal lobe epilepsy – was to suffer it as the price for having some companionship.
Their second evidence is based on rumours heard by the late art historian John Rewald in the 1930s from townspeople in Auvers old enough to remember that Van Gogh had accidentally been shot by two young boys.
Their third piece of evidence is a drawing by Vincent where he depicts a boy in a cowboy hat that the authors suspect is Rene Secretan who attended the Paris World fair in 1890 where Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show from America was a big hit. They theorized that the young Rene duly infatuated with cowboys and guns borrowed a pistol from local innkeeper Arthur Ravoux to shoot birds and small animals, and that this was the weapon that killed Vincent van Gogh. It should be noted that during the 1956 interview Rene Secretan mentioned nothing about any shooting.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which collaborated with the authors, was quoted as regarding the author’s theory as “interesting” and “spectacular” but has not yet dismissed the long-held suicide theory.
In any case, the mystery of Vincent Van Gogh’s death has begun.