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Van Gogh’s suicide: ten arguments why the murder story is a myth

Art critic Martin Bailey, a researcher of the life of Vincent van Gogh, says: a few years ago, he often asked the question ” Why did the artist cut off his ear?”. Now the question is, did he commit suicide or was he actually killed?

The theory that the cause of death of van Gogh was murder (possibly manslaughter), arose in 2011 after the publication of a comprehensive study — a biography of the artist authored by two American writers, Stephen Nayfe and Gregory white Smith. They claimed that on July 27, 1890, van Gogh was shot in the stomach by 16-year-old Rene Secretan. The young man spent the summer at Auvers-sur-Oise and mocked the artist. Van Gogh was able to return to his hotel and died of his wounds two days later.

“The authors based their theory on a loose interpretation of an interview that Secretan gave in 1957 a few months before his death,” States Martin Bailey.
Naife and Smith write that van Gogh “was glad to die” and therefore to be shot suddenly. And so he defended the Secretan, saying it was suicide. The theory of premeditated or manslaughter was subsequently treated differently in two widely discussed films-the animated ” with love, Vincent “(2017) and the feature” At the gates of eternity ” (2018) by artist Julian Schnabel.

However, Martin Bailey remains convinced that the popular belief that van Gogh shot himself is correct, and the Secretan did not kill him. “The story of the murder – this is another myth of those that surround the artist,” – said the expert. He brings ten arguments in favour of suicide.
Vincent Van Gogh. Wheat field with crows
Wheat field with crows
Vincent Van Gogh
July 1890, 50.5×103 cm
1. Van Gogh’s doctor considered it suicide

A few hours after the shooting, Dr. Paul Gachet, who treated Vincent, wrote to his brother Theo van Gogh that the artist “wounded himself.” Before that, the doctor examined the wound and talked to Vincent. If something had caused him doubts, but would not have left it without attention. Two weeks after the painter’s death, Gachet painted Theo again, using the word “suicide”in no uncertain terms.

2. Theo thought it was suicide

Theo, who rushed to the dying man’s bedside and talked to his brother for the last 12 hours, was convinced that he had committed suicide. Three days after Vincent’s death, he wrote an emotional letter to his wife Jo: “One of his last phrases was’ this is how I wanted to leave’. Only a few moments passed, and it was over — he found the peace he could not find on earth.” If Theo had believed that his beloved brother had been shot by someone else, he would have reported it to the police.
Vincent Van Gogh. Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Vincent Van Gogh
1890, 67×56 cm
3. Friends thought it was suicide

Emile Bernard, van Gogh’s closest friend, attended the funeral and spoke to Dr. Gachet and Theo. The former told Bernard that he hoped to save his patient’s life, but Vincent warned, “then I’ll have to do it again.” Two days after the funeral, Bernard wrote a detailed letter to the critic albert Aurier: “He committed suicide. On Sunday evening he went into the field, set up an easel against a haystack [ … ] and shot himself with a revolver.” Vincent “did it in a clear mind” with “a desire to die.”

4. Paul Gauguin considered it suicide

In his memoirs Before and after, Paul Gauguin wrote that ” van Gogh shot himself in the stomach.” Although Gauguin was in Brittany at the time, he kept in touch with Vincent’s friends. Gauguin had known van Gogh well since they had lived and worked together in the Yellow house in Arles. Their collaboration ended abruptly after the ear incident, but Gauguin was well aware of his friend’s fragile mental state.
Emile Bernard. Self-portrait with portrait of Paul Gauguin Gegenpol. Self-portrait with a portrait of Emile Bernard (Les Misérables)
Emile Bernard, ” self-Portrait with a portrait of Paul Gauguin “(1888). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Paul Gauguin, ” self-Portrait with a portrait of Emile Bernard “(1888). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
5. The police considered it a suicide

No police record of the shooting has survived, but Bernard also wrote to Aurier that the innkeeper Arthur Ravu told him about “the gendarmes who came to the artist’s bed to reproach him for an act for which he was responsible.” The innkeeper’s daughter Adeline Rava, who was 13 at the time, later said that her father often talked about van Gogh. The artist allegedly told police: “what I did should not interest anyone. With my body I am free to do what I want.”

Of course, the police would investigate if they had any suspicions. Adelina is even said that one of the gendarmes called Regmon. Although her testimony dates back to the 1950s, more than sixty years after the events, subsequent research has shown that a certain Emile Rigomont did at one time serve as a police officer in the nearby village of Meri-sur-Oise.

6. The Church considered it suicide

Henri Tessier, a Catholic priest in Auvers, refused to allow a funeral service in his Church and refused to provide a parish hearse to transport van Gogh’s body to the cemetery. Tessier seemed concerned that the Protestant artist had sinned by committing suicide. Because of this, Theo had to reprint the invitations to the funeral.
Vincent Van Gogh. The Church at Auvers
The Church at Auvers
Vincent Van Gogh
June 1890, 94×74 cm
7. Vincent tried to kill himself a year earlier.

In April 1889, four months after the ear incident, Vincent wrote to Theo: “Had it not been for your friendship, I would have committed suicide without remorse, and coward as I was, I would have done so in the end.” A few months later he tried to poison himself by eating turpentine and paints, but the doctor fortunately saved him. A few days after his recovery, Dr. Theophile Peyron told Theo that “Vincent had given up thoughts of suicide.” The artist himself wrote:”now I’m trying to get better, like a man who, wanting to commit suicide, found that the water is too cold and wants to swim back to shore.” He was certainly a very vulnerable man.
Vincent Van Gogh. Self-portrait with a bandaged ear and a tube
Self-portrait with a bandaged ear and a tube
Vincent Van Gogh
January 1889, 51×45 cm
8. The last months of Vincent’s life were emotionally difficult

In may 1890, after a year in an orphanage near Saint-Remy-de-Provence, Vincent moved North to the village of Auvers. Throughout his career, his closest friend and confidant was Theo, who regularly sent money to his brother. But Parisian art dealer Theo recently married, and in January 1890 he had a son. So Vincent worried that because of his wife and the baby, he could lose much of his brother’s emotional and financial support. He was also concerned about Theo’s recent problems with the gallery owners. And although most of the time the artist coped with difficulties, he was upset. Something pushed him over the edge on the afternoon of July 27-perhaps a relapse of the same mental condition that had suddenly caused him to cut off part of his left ear in the Yellow house.

9. Rene Secretan did not confess to the murder and generally claimed to have left Auvers before the shooting

Renee Seretan at the age of 80 years. Reproduction from aesculape magazine

The only time the alleged Secretan killer spoke publicly about van Gogh was in an interview published in Aesculape magazine in 1957. The conversation took place just a few months before the death of the man, who was 82 years old at the time. Secretan never said he fired the shot, on the contrary, he claimed Vincent stole his gun. In addition, he stated that he left over a few days before the tragic incident. And while there is no way to verify his testimony, Martin Bailey points out that there is nothing in the interview that suggests he was guilty of premeditated or manslaughter. “In any case, it is extremely rare for a victim who has been fatally injured in a shooting to claim that it was actually a suicide attempt,” the scientist notes. He also finds it implausible that the Secretan — had He been guilty-would have voluntarily given an interview about van Gogh nearly 70 years later while out of suspicion.

10. Gun as proof of suicide

Corroded by rust, the skeleton of the revolver, allegedly ended the life of van Gogh, in June was sold at auction in Paris for 162.5 thousand euros. It was discovered around 1965 by a farmer-in the middle of a field, just in the area where the artist is believed to have received a mortal wound. If it is a “van Gogh gun” (which is very likely, although not accurate), its location near the surface of the earth suggests that it was thrown, not hidden. And if the fatal shot had been fired by Secretan, he would certainly have concealed the weapon more carefully-buried it deeper or thrown it into the river Oise nearby. But if van Gogh pulled the trigger, he’d just drop the gun.

The gun that supposedly killed Vincent van Gogh. Photo: Francois Guillot / AFP
So, all the key people at the time believed that van Gogh shot himself. If the artist’s family and friends had any doubts, they would certainly talk about it. And the only information about ties Vincent with Sekretanom — interview last from 1957, in which the latest not said nothing, that could throw on him shadow suspicions.

What would be useful in this case is forensic data on the nature of the wound, but such information is scarce. Dr. Gachet, who died in 1909, never spoke of her. And the descriptions made after his death by his son are very brief (about the color of the skin adjacent to the wound, its location and the angle of the shot) — and these details have recently been interpreted differently.

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