Vincent Willem van Gogh is one of the greatest and the most controversial painters in the history of humanity. In the time period that was a little longer than a decade, Van Gogh managed to create 2,100 artworks. His creations include 860 oil paintings which mostly date back to two years before his death. Magnificent in creating illusions of depth and space, he was a true master of perspective arts. His unique perception of the world together with the ability to express it through colors made him immortal. But equally, as his creative life, Van Gogh’s death managed to become one of the greatest points of interest and debate in circles focused on history regarding the lives of painters.
How Did Van Gogh Die?
Van Gogh died from a self-inflicted wound that pushes his death in the category of suicide. On 27 July 1890, the painter used a revolver to shoot himself in the chest. Two days later the 37-year old painter passed away in the hospital.
Was Van Gogh’s Death Really a Suicide?The Assassination of Theo van Gogh: From Social Drama to Cultural Trauma (Politics, History, and Culture)
Many features of his life and personality indicate that Van Gogh was a person prone to self-destruction. He was both psychotic and delusional. In addition to this, neglecting his physical health, famous painter drank a lot and ate very little. Depression wasn’t omitted either. Remembered as a misunderstood genius, during his lifetime, Van Gogh was considered for failure and a madman. Living on his brother’s account, Vincent attempted to create his future as a painter. His brother Theo was an art dealer and he used his connections to push Van Gogh into the world of art and introduce him to the most prevalent painters. Their creations affected his work but that did not improve the selling.
How Many Pictures did Van Gogh Sell During His Lifetime?
During his lifetime Van Gogh managed to sell only one painting. It was Red “Vineyard at Arles.” In November 1888 Belgian painter Anna Boch purchased the painting for 400 francs.
Depression and Razor Blades – Cutting His Ear Off
Life in poverty and the constant state of being misunderstood gave birth to the depression. The painter spent a lot of time in mental hospitals where his inclinations were established and clearly diagnosed. This all affected his social life which was, described in kind words, very modest. He didn’t have many friends. One of those was Paul Gauguin. Paul was a french painter that developed a close relationship with Vincent. When he moved from his birth country the Netherlands to Arles in France, Van Gogh had a vision of establishing artists’ collective. After changing a few locations he moved in what history remembered as the yellow house. There he rented four rooms. His apartment consisted of studio space and a kitchen on the ground, and two tight bedrooms upstairs. One was for him while the other was intended to provide personal space for Paul Gauguin. After Vincent’s multiple invitations and the 150 francs a month bribe offered by Van’s brother Theo, Paul decided to come. They lived and painted together for a certain period of time. And it was the event ensuing exactly from the Guagans company that created the question of Van Gough’s death conspiracy.
The only picture Paul Gauguin completed during his visit was Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers. He was aggressive and arrogant which frustrated Vincent. As soon as he came to Arles, Paul stated that he despises the place and that he was going to go back to Carribians as soon as he gets the chance. This both irritated and terrified Vincent. However, he wanted to guard friendship and relation which is why he allowed such behavior to prolong. By the formal version of the story, on the night of December 23 two painters had quarreled heavily. Gaugin had left the house and Van Gogh, invigorated by the jolt of rage, took a razor blade and followed him onto the street. In the last moments, Vincent managed to overcome his madness and return home. There he cut a part of his ear, wrapped it in the newspaper and gave it to a prostitute which both of the friends have visited regularly. Later, the famous painter depicted himself with his crippled ear bandaged. Holes in this story will be regarded in the incoming part of the article.
Love Life and Rejections
When it comes to love life Van Gogh had no luck either. While living in the Netherlands with his parents he fell in love with his widowed cousin Kee Vos-Stricker. It turned out she had no affections for the painter. However, Van Gogh didn’t want to give up from her that easily which led to rising tensions in a relationship with his father. His next love was a former prostitute that he used for a model. Due to pressures ensuing from family, the relationship has eventually ended.
Other Life Failures
Before painting Van Gogh wanted to be a preacher. Sketches of local miners and peasants were the only good thing that came out of the attempt.
Was it Really Suicide?
All of these facts describing his behavior imply the existence of the ground perfect for the depression to grow and therefore the highest possibility that suicide was the cause of Van Gogh’s death. But not everyone thinks so.
Van Gogh Murder Conspiracy
The first argument regarding this theory is Van Gogh’s relationship with Auguin. By some claims, Van Gogh was not the one to cut his ear.
Did Gauguin Cut Van Gogh’s Ear?
In 2009 a pair of German academics published a book claiming that Gauguin sliced off a portion of van Gogh’s ear with a saber during their conflicts. Van Gough, who strongly wanted to preserve the friendship, decided to take the blame on himself. Around 15 years later, Gauguin publicly spoke of the occurrence stating that in that night, there were multiple signs of threatening behavior. But he also had motives to commit such an act.
Loans and Debts
The formal story says that Theo promised Paul Gauguin the payment of 150 francs a month if he goes to live with Van Gough and takes the responsibility of being his mentor. Paul who needed money to travel back to Carribians accepted the offer and went to live and tutor Vincent. Another not so popular version tells that those payments were late and that in addition to not keeping his promise, Theo even asked Gauguin for a loan. To make his plea more appealable he promised to double monthly payment. Paul decided to give money to Vincent’s brother. The debt wasn’t returned for a quite period of time which is why the french painter might have started suspecting that Van Gogh’s family is only financially using him. This assumption could have easily been rage invigoration trigger from which ensued attack on Van Gough and cutting off his ear.
The problem in Gauguin’s story was that according to some pieces of evidence, it was almost certain that he was not in the yellow house that night. It is most likely that he took a room in the hotel. As for the Van Gough, he had no memory of the event allowing the story of his potential mental breakdown to be accepted as the final truth. Maybe he really had no recollection or maybe, as it was already mentioned, he just wanted to preserve the friendship. This act motivated by debt, with its time of happening very close to Van Gogh’s suicide implies the question of: “Was Van Gough murdered?”
Murder of Van Gough
There is a whole list of circumstances regarding Van Gough’s death that doesn’t allow pieces of the puzzle to form a clear and logical picture:
- Absence of suicide letter.
- Ordering paint.
- Writings in the days after the event didn’t speak or mention suicide.
- Where was the gun?
- Why would he shoot himself in the chest?
- Staggering full mile back to his room.
No Suicide Note
First of all, Van Gough left no suicide note. This famous misconception was promoted by movies. It is very strange since Vincent was known for being very prone to writing letters and notes. A piece of writing allegedly found in his clothes after his death was just a draft of his letter to his brother Theo. It was made before the shooting. As for the written content, it was even cheerful in some parts.
Just a couple of days before the alleged suicide he ordered a large amount of paint. Why would he commit such an act if he planned to take his own life?
Suicide Wasn’t Mentioned
The townspeople of Auvers where Van Gough lived when the tragedy occurred weren’t eager to talk about it. Despite it was summer which is known for town streets being full of people, all individuals that were asked to share some information about Vincent claimed that they haven’t seen him when he went to take his last walk. And in the first couple of days, newspapers mentioned no suicide.
Where Was the Gun?
In addition to all of these strange circumstances, nobody said anything about finding a gun.
When asked to explain, doctors expressed their confusion with the nature of his wounds. One of the main questions regarding his suicide is why did he shoot himself in the chest? Suicidal people are known for hanging, jumping off the bridges, cutting arteries and veins, shooting themselves in the head… Chests seem like a very strange choice. On the other hand, when it comes to shooting others, chests are more than a logical target. Another important note is that some sources say he shot himself in the stomach. This makes it even more illogical.
In the beginning, there was only one witness. This means that a whole suicide story was based on a testimony of a single person. Her name was Adeline Ravoux and she was the daughter of the owner of the Ravoux Inn, where Van Gogh was staying. Adeline was 13 years old and she didn’t speak for the records until 1953. When she decided to go out in public Adeline repeated what her father had told her half a century earlier. Around that time another witness came to stage. His name was Paul who was 17 years old at the time of the shooting. His father was a doctor who had sat for a famous portrait by Van Gough. Together with his son he had stripped value from all the paintings in Vincent’s studio in the days after his death. Paul introduced the possibility that the shooting had taken place in the wheat fields outside Auvers.
Why Stagger Back to Room?
If shooting really did take place at the wheat fields, then why was Van Gough staggering for a full mile to get back to his room. If he decided to kill himself wouldn’t it be more logical just to shoot again?
Who Would Want to Kill Van Gogh – Paul Gauguin?
To discover the killer we should first try to seek out the motives. We have established that Vincent’s brother Theo owed money to Paul Gauguin. Debt could be a strong and eligible motive for retaliation. They had a close relation and if Paul considered Van Gough for a friend the idea that he is just being taken advantage of due to his bad financial situation would have a disturbing effect. This statement leads us back to the yellow house where the incident with Vincent’s ear took place.
What Had Really Happened in the Yellow House?
We have already mentioned the lack of alibis for Paul stating that it is very likely Gauguin was at the hotel that night. He stayed with Vincent only because Theo paid him 150 francs per month. Or at least he promised to do so. The fight could have happened around noon. Or even the day before. Paul probably stated to Vincent that he is planning on leaving. Van Gogh had exploded which might have invigorated rage in Paul who, thinking of Caribbeans and money Theo owed him, took a razor blade and sliced Gogh’s ear. And Vincent, wanting to preserve their relationship and possibility of keeping Paul as a tutor, took the blame. He was, with his well known mental conditions, more than suitable to commit such an act. But what about the murder?
Where Was Paul When Vincent Was Killed?
On 3 July 1895, Gauguin left France and have never returned. This means that he was certainly not the one to shoot at Van Gough. However, what if there was something nobody knew. Claims that Van Gough was gay who had a relationship with his tutor Paul are most probably false rumors and this assumption, by all means, should be considered for a long shot. Both of them regularly visited brothels. Paul even died of syphilis in 1905. They liked women and Vincent had few affections without luck. But taking razor during a fight implied the presence of strong emotions. They wouldn’t be the first straight men to have a bisexual adventure. Their fight might have happened because of the departure which had a strong emotional impact on both. Some grudges last a lifetime and this one might have induced Paul to hire someone to kill Van Gough.
New Culprits – Father and Son
The name of the famous doctor on the portrait was Paul Gachet. It is a widely known fact that father and son had stripped the value of the paintings from Vincent’s studio in the days after his death. In this case, the motive had a financial basis. Who knows how many pictures they bought and kept for themselves waiting for the death to do what it does to painters – raise them to glory. As for the portrait itself, it was sold for 82.5 million dollars which still remains a record price for Van Gogh’s auctions. Again, this assumption is another long shot not so likely to be the truth.
Why Cover the Truth?
In this case, the truth was not covered. The story had to be filled with something and due to Van Gough’s indisputable madness, despite many illogical facts, suicide was the most likable solution.