Van Gogh : Suicide or Murder?

Van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert in Holland on March 30th 1853 to a pastor father and was brought up in a highly religious and cultured environment.

Whilst he showed an aptitude for drawing from an early age, the young man didn’t choose to become an artist until his late twenties instead beginning his career working for an art dealer travelling between The Hague, London and Paris.

In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris where his younger brother Theo, with whom he was close, lived. Theo, an art dealer, supported his brother financially and introduced him to a number of artists, including Paul Gauguin, Camille Pisarro and Georges Seurat. Influenced by these and other painters, Van Gogh’s own artistic style lightened up and he began using more color.

In 1888, Van Gogh rented a house in Arles in the south of France, where he hoped to found an artists’ colony and be less of a burden to his brother. However, tensions developed and on December 23, in a fit of dementia, Van Gogh threatened his friend with a knife before turning it on himself and chopping his ear lobe off.

Afterward, he allegedly wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute at a nearby brothel. Following that incident, Van Gogh was hospitalized in Arles and then checked himself into a mental institution in Saint-Remy for a year. During his stay in Saint-Remy, he fluctuated between periods of madness and intense creativity, in which he produced some of his best and most well-known works, including Starry Night and Irises.

By 1890 his condition had improved and he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise under the supervision of his consultant Dr Gauchet. Here the open air and vistas of wheat fields inspired van Gogh to produce his greatest works; though even at this point of better health he was still incapacitated by his fits of madness which stopped him working for long periods. Two months later he had committed suicide by shooting himself in the fields where he painted and died in his bed from his gun-shot wound.

This was the accepted truth until writers Naifeh and Smith produced a biography in 2011 citing that there is evidence to suggest that van Gogh was shot accidentally by a teenager whom he did not wish to take the blame.

Rene Secretan at the time was a young man of about 18 who dressed as a cowboy and loved guns.

Their logic calls forth the trajectory of the bullet which was at an angle and not straight as a self inflicted wound would be.
Van Gogh had mentioned in previous correspondence with others of his distaste for suicide labeling it immoral and a sin.

So why would van Gogh protect this youngster who according to locals had been tormenting the artist? Perhaps he felt that he had been done a favour – having not the ethics to have committed suicide himself, he may have welcomed the accident as an end to his suffering.

Experts have said that it would have been impossible for van Gogh to have walked the mile or so from the field where he said the shooting took place back to his lodgings and so the incident must have taken place closer; could he have used this as a rouse to protect his killer?

Van Gogh experts all over the world have different opinions many accepting that his death was by suicide citing his history of mental health. Medical experts today have put his conditions down to a brain lesion he was born with which caused him to have epileptic fits; this coupled with his excessive consumption of absinthe (a kind of liquor) would have made the condition worse.

Periods of extreme dedication to his religion and later in producing artwork followed by deep states of depression and melancholy would today be diagnosed as a bi-polar disorder.

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