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Adventures with Van Gogh

Adventures through Van Gogh is a weekly blog by boy name Bailey, ours long-standing correspondent and also expert on the artist. Published every Friday, his story will selection from newsy items around this many intriguing artist to academic pieces based on his very own meticulous investigations and discoveries.

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A few years ago, the inquiry I was most frequently asked about Vincent valve Gogh was, “Why did he reduced off his ear?” now it's, “Did he commit suicide, or was he in reality murdered?”

The story of his particularly life has constantly excited simply as much interest as his pathbreaking art.

The theory that valve Gogh’s fatality was killing (or manslaughter) an initial surfaced seriously in 2011, in a considerable biography by 2 American writers, Steven Naifeh and also Gregory White Smith. They created that valve Gogh to be shot in the abdomen on 27 July 1890 through 16-year-old René Secrétan, a summer visitant in Auvers-sur-Oise who taunted the artist. Van Gogh controlled to stagger back to his inn, dying two days later on from his wounds. The two authors based their concept on your imaginative translate of an interview the Secrétan offered in 1957, a few months prior to his death.

Naifeh and Smith said that valve Gogh “welcomed death” and therefore the unexpected shooting. He then safeguarded Secrétan by declare it to be suicide. The murder/manslaughter theory was consequently taken up in different ways in 2 acclaimed films, the painted-animation Loving Vincent (2017) and also artist Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate (2018).

However, i remain encouraged that the timeless view that Van Gogh shot self is correct; he to be not eliminated by Secrétan. The killing story is yet another myth that has actually been added to those i beg your pardon have concerned surround the artist. Here are ten factors why it was suicide:

1. Vincent’s doctor thought it was suicide

A couple of hours after the shooting, Vincent’s doctor, Paul Gachet, composed to the artist’s brother, Theo van Gogh, to rest the news the “he has actually wounded himself”. Dr Gachet had actually inspected the wound and talked with Vincent. Had actually there to be anything to suggest feasible foul play, he would certainly presumably not have actually let the issue rest. 2 weeks after Vincent’s death, he composed again come Theo, clearly using the word “suicide”.

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2. Theo believed it to be suicide

Theo, who rushed to his brother’s bedside and also conversed v him throughout his last 12 hours, was encouraged it was suicide. Three days ~ Vincent’s death, he composed an emotionally fee letter come his wife, Jo: “One the his last words was: this is how I wanted to go & it take it a couple of moments & climate it to be over & he uncovered the peace he hadn’t to be able to discover on earth.” had actually Theo any reason to think his lover brother can have to be shot by who else, he would certainly surely have actually informed the police.

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3. Friends thought it to be suicide

Emile Bernard, van Gogh’s closest friend, to visit the funeral and spoke with Dr Gachet and also Theo. Dr Gachet told Bernard the he had actually hoped to conserve his patient’s life, however Vincent had warned him that “then I’ll have to do it over again”. 2 days ~ the funeral, Bernard wrote a comprehensive account to the movie critic Albert Aurier: “He killed himself. On Sunday evening he got in the countryside about Auvers, placed his easel versus a haystack and also went behind the château and also fired a revolver shot at himself.” Vincent had “done the in complete lucidity”, with a “wish come die”.

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4. Paul Gauguin thought it was suicide

In Gauguin’s memoir, Avant et Après, he composed that “Van Gogh shot himself in the stomach”. Return Gauguin was in Brittany in ~ the time, he stayed in touch with Vincent’s circle of friends. Gauguin knew valve Gogh fine from their time together in the Yellow residence in Arles, where their participation had concerned an abrupt finish with the ear incident, and also he was just too conscious of his friend’s fragile mental condition.

5. The police thought it to be suicide

No police records around the shoot survive, but Bernard likewise informed Aurier the the innkeeper, Arthur Ravoux, had actually told him around “the gendarmes who came to his bed come reproach him for an act for which he was responsible”. His daughter, Adeline Ravoux (who was 13 at the time of the incident), later reported the her father had often talked about van Gogh. The artist had told the police: “What I have actually done is nobody else’s business. I am totally free to execute what I like with my own body.” certain the police would certainly have complied with up if they had actually harboured any suspicions that foul play. Adeline also named one of the gendarmes together Rigaumont. Although her testimony was provided in the 1950s, much more than 60 year after the events, subsequent research study revealed the an Emile Rigaumont had indeed as soon as served together a gendarme in the neighbouring town of Méry-sur-Oise.

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6. The church believed it was suicide

Henri Tessier, the Catholic monk in Auvers, refuse to allow the funeral business to be hosted in his church, or to carry out the parish hearse to bring Van Gogh’s body to the cemetery. Tessier to be presumably came to that the good news artist had actually sinned by committing suicide. Theo then essential to amend the published funeral invitations.

7. Vincent had tried to kill himself the year before

In April 1889, four months after mutilating his ear, Vincent had written come Theo: “If ns was without her friendship I would certainly be sent earlier without remorse to suicide, and also however cowardly i am, i would finish up walk there.” A couple of months later he tried come poison himself by eating his paints and also turpentine, but fortunately his doctor saved him. A few days ~ his recovery, Dr Théophile Peyron told Theo the Vincent’s “ideas of suicide have disappeared”. Vincent self reported the “I’m trying come get far better now prefer someone who, having actually wanted to commit suicide, detect the water as well cold, do the efforts to catch hold of the bank again”. The was certainly a delicate individual.

8. Vincent confronted a daunting time in the final months of his life

In may 1890, after a year in the asylum just external Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Vincent moved north, to the village of Auvers. Throughout his job Theo had been his the next confidante and also had detailed a constant financial allowance. Yet Theo, an arts dealer in Paris, had recently married and then had a child in January 1890. Vincent was because of this concerned the a wife and also an child would typical he can lose much of his brother’s emotional and financial support. That was additionally worried around Theo’s recent troubles at work with the owner of the gallery. Although many of the moment Vincent might cope with the obstacles of his life, he to be upset. Something driven him end the leaf in the afternoon the 27 July—presumably a recurrence of the mental problem that had actually suddenly led that to reduced off most of his left ear in the Yellow House.

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René Secrétan, aged 80, reproduced in Aesculape, march 1957


9. René Secrétan, the purported killer, never confessed and also indeed asserted he had actually left Auvers before the shooting

The only occasion on i beg your pardon Secrétan publicly spoke about Van Gogh remained in an interview released in the newspaper Aesculape in 1957, as soon as he was aged 82. This was just a few months before his death. Secrétan never said the fired the shot, instead saying Vincent had somehow acquired hold of a gun, i m sorry had been in the young man's possession. Secrétan also had an noticeable alibi, due to the fact that he asserted to have actually left Auvers part days before the shooting. Although over there is no method of verifying his statements, in mine mind over there is nothing in the interview which to represent prima facie proof that he can have been guilty of murder or manslaughter. In any kind of case, it should be extremely rare because that a victim fatally injured in a shooting by someone else to claim it was actually a suicide attempt. To add to the implausibility, why must Secrétan, if guilty, have voluntarily provided an interview about Van Gogh practically 70 year afterwards, in ~ a time as soon as he was under no suspicion?

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10. The recent introduction of the total is further evidence for suicide

The corroded gun that is stated to have actually killed van Gogh was displayed and auctioned in Paris in June, fetching €162,500. It had actually been found in around 1960 by a farmer, abandoned in a ar in the area where the artist is believed to have suffered the wound. If it is the van Gogh gun, i beg your pardon is an extremely likely (although no certain), climate its exploration near the surface ar of the ground suggests it was abandoned fairly than hidden. And if it was Secrétan who had actually fired the deadly shot, climate surely that would have actually hidden the weapon properly—perhaps by burying it more deeply, or throwing it in the nearby River Oise. But if van Gogh had pulled the trigger, he would certainly have immediately fallen, dropping the gun.

In conclusion, every the crucial people at the time thought Van Gogh had shot himself. Self-destruction was then condemned by the Catholic church and regarded by culture as wrong. Had Vincent’s family and also friends had any type of suspicions the someone else to be responsible, castle surely would have actually voiced their concerns. And why allude the finger in ~ Secrétan? The just substantive details on his web links with valve Gogh originates from his 1957 interview, in which he stated nothing to suggest he to be guilty the murder.

What would certainly be useful in determining whether it was self-destruction or murder would certainly be forensic evidence around the nature that the wound, but there is small information. Dr Gachet, who died in 1909, never spoke out about the wound during his lifetime, and also the descriptions offered after his death by his child were an extremely brief (on the colour of the skin ~ above the adjacent skin, its place on the body and the edge of the shot)—and this details have recently been topic to different interpretations.

We therefore have to do a judgement top top what appears the an ext likely explanation. Have to we accept Van Gogh’s words the he had made decision to end his life? Or walk Secrétan’s interview indicate it to be he who pulled the trigger? for me, the prize is clear. Together Theo put it for this reason poignantly, Vincent’s then “found the tranquility he hadn’t been able to find on earth”.

For a detailed explanation the the Naifeh and also Smith theory, view their comprehensive book Van Gogh: The Life (Profile Books, 2011), specifically the postposition on Vincent’s fatal wounding, pp. 869-85, and also follow-up article in Vanity Fair, December 2014. 2 Van Gogh Museum specialists, Louis valve Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp, later published a comprehensive critique that the murder concept in the Burlington Magazine, July 2013.

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Martin Bailey is a top Van Gogh specialist and investigative reporter because that The arts Newspaper. Bailey has curated van Gogh exhibitions at the Barbican arts Gallery and also Compton Verney/National collection of Scotland. He to be a co-curator that Tate Britain’s The EY Exhibition: valve Gogh and also Britain (27 March-11 August). He has actually written a variety of bestselling books, consisting of The Sunflowers room Mine: The Story of valve Gogh's Masterpiece (Frances Lincoln 2013, obtainable in the UK and also US), Studio of the South: van Gogh in Provence (Frances Lincoln 2016, obtainable in the UK and US) and Starry Night: valve Gogh in ~ the Asylum (White Lion posting 2018, obtainable in the UK and US). His latest book is Living with Vincent valve Gogh: The houses & Landscapes the Shaped the Artist (White Lion publishing 2019, easily accessible in the UK and US).