October 14, 2011
A new biography of Vincent van Gogh and a “60 Minutes” report on it scheduled for Sunday night call into question the long-accepted notion — central to the myth of the troubled artist — that he committed suicide.
In the book, “Van Gogh: The Life,” due out next week, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith present evidence that raises doubts about the source of the gunshot wound van Gogh sustained in or near the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, France, in July 1890.
“No physical evidence of the shooting was ever produced,” they write. “No gun was ever found.” Van Gogh, who “knew nothing about guns,” left no suicide note, and the bullet entered his upper abdomen “from an unusual, oblique angle — not straight on as one would expect in a suicide.” The authors hypothesize that he was shot by a friend’s teenage brother, who carried a gun and “had a history of teasing Vincent in a way intended to provoke him to anger.” (The artist, for his part, “had a history of violent outbursts.”)
As for why van Gogh did not accuse the boy before he died, but instead offered “hesitant, halfhearted, and oddly hedged” confessions of a suicide attempt, the authors speculate that he welcomed his own death and saw no reason to punish anyone for bringing it about.