Van Gogh’s Suicide? Forensics Expert Favors Murder

A couple of years ago, two Van Gogh biographers asserted that the artist's famous suicide was, most likely, murder. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith published a book about their findings after a decade of research and met lots of opposition to their conclusions. You can read about that first announcement and resistance to it in The Art Newspaper.

Since then, the biographers have answered back and written a Vanity Fair article describing their process as well as the recent substantiation of their theory by a forensic ballistics expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio: “It is my opinion that, in all medical probability, the wound incurred by Van Gogh was not self-inflicted. In other words, he did not shoot himself.” From the Vanity Fair article:

Van Gogh himself wrote not a word about his final days. The film got it wrong: he left no suicide note—odd for a man who churned out letters so profligately. A piece of writing allegedly found in his clothes after he died turned out to be an early draft of his final letter to his brother Theo, which he posted the day of the shooting, July 27, 1890. That letter was upbeat—even ebullient—about the future. He had placed a large order for more paints only a few days before a bullet put a hole in his abdomen. Because the missile missed his vital organs, it took 29 agonizing hours to kill him.

… If Van Gogh didn’t shoot himself, who did shoot him? On the one hand, we have a cocky 16-year-old twirling the death weapon with visions of frontier gunplay in his head and a history of taunting the strange painter-man. We have a witness who saw Van Gogh on the road to the Secrétan family villa on the night of the shooting, and we have persistent local rumors that the artist was killed not by his own hand but by “young boys”—rumors recounted by a prominent scholar in the 1930s, before [the movie] Lust for Life fever swept the record smooth.

Read the whole thing. As tragic as suicide is, the biographers' new theory doesn't lack for pathos either, the story of a perpetually bullied weirdo who, to the last, didn't fight back against his tormentor. What do you think happened to Vincent Van Gogh?


  1. Terrie Farley Moran

    Van Gogh is such a favorite of mine that I actually own an umbrella with the cloth a copy of his “Irises.” His brush strokes are exquisite, his use of color vivid. And I had no idea that there was this controversy surrounding his death. I wonder if we’ll ever know the truth.

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