Vincent Van Gogh Not a Suicide?

Forgive me, I must weigh in. Just watched the 60 Minutes segment (double!) promoting the new Van Gogh biography which has been touted as offering a new theory about Van Gogh’s death. It was great to see the footage of Auvers and the Auberge Ravoux where Van Gogh died but authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory Smith suggests that Van Gogh was shot by a couple of young men fooling around with a borrowed gun. One of their sources is the estimable scholar John Rewald who visited Auvers in the 1930s, and relayed a story told by an interview subject’s grandmother. Another source is a minor historian, Victor Doiteau, who tells of a youth called René Secrétan who teased Van Gogh dreadfully during July of 1890 in Auvers. (Doiteau himself doesn’t dispute the suicide.) Old gossip, in both cases, possible but not definitive. Against this, Van Gogh’s deathbed statement to the innkeeper Ravoux  — that “If I have failed, I will just have to do it over again.” And to Theo, “I did it for us all.”

I’m not saying the explanation offered in Leaving Van Gogh is the truth. But it sure is a more satisfying story!

Update: evidently the scholars at the Van Gogh Museum are not convinced by the Naifeh/Smith theory either.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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11 Responses to Vincent Van Gogh Not a Suicide?

  1. Lee says:

    Not only is the suicide theory more “satisfying,” it has the ring of truth.

    • carolwallace says:

      I think this is where we might introduce the word “factitious,” Lee — as in “made up.” That does let us keep things neater!

  2. Ginny Arndt says:

    I agree – Leaving Van Gogh is a much more satisfying story.

  3. Dr. Wilfred Niels Arnold says:

    The rumor that two young boys shot Vincent van Gogh has been around for decades. See for example page 259 of “Vincent van Gogh: Chemicals, Crises, and Creativity” by Wilfred Arnold, published 1992. There was nothing to support the rumor then, and Naifeh and Smith offer nothing now.

    • carolwallace says:

      Yes, Dr. Arnold, I was aware of this, too. And while it’s true that the suicide evidence is also word of mouth, the sources (Ravoux, Gachet, and Theo) all seem more solid than the Secretan business.

  4. tim says:

    Has it been recorded that Vincent wrote, this is speculative, “I would not end my life but if the opportunity presented itself, I would not avoid it.

    • carolwallace says:

      Tim, sadly I don’t have that quotation at my fingertips, but I’m reading my way through the new Naifeh & Smith bio so if I get to that I’ll let you know. In the meantime I can tell you that Vincent did mention suicide over and over.

  5. tim says:

    Thank you Carol, there’s a painting in Cardiff Museum that haunts me the subject – crows over a cornfield in rain (not the title) very strong

  6. carolwallace says:

    Yes, I know that painting, Tim. If you start thinking about the imagery — and I think we should, it’s part of how he’s communicating — there are all kinds of intimations of despair. Though also of …. I wouldn’t say hope, exactly. But deep appreciation of the world’s beauty. That complexity is what makes VVG so fascinating in the end.

  7. Cher says:

    Hi there,
    Wondering if you know how to find the Rene Secretan interview by Victor Doiteau. I have been searching for it as I would like to know the facts from the alleged murderer himself. I’m a little upset that more information from this interview was not included in The Life biography of Van Gogh.
    If you have a good reference I would appreciate the referral.


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