For 121 years, it has been widely accepted that Vincent Van Gogh killed himself in a field in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, ending a troubled, solitary life on his own terms.
But a new book, along with a '60 Minutes' segment
that aired on Sunday night, explores a very different possibility: that
Van Gogh was accidentally shot and killed by one or more local
children, and chose to cover up their crime before he died.
Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, who won the Pulitzer prize for
their book “Jackson Pollock: An American Saga,” propose such a
possibility in their new tome "Vincent Van Gogh: A Life".
The authors told CBS that they uncovered many inconsistencies with the
original story of Van Gogh's death. For instance, after being shot, Van
Gogh arrived at the Auberge Ravoux inn, where he lived, clutching his
stomach--but the field where he supposedly shot himself was more than a
mile of rough terrain away. Meanwhile, a local man claimed he heard the
fatal gunshot not in the wheat field, but in a farmyard in town, less
than a half mile from the inn.
They also observe that doctors who attended to Van Gogh noted that
the bullet was fired some distance away from the artist's body, at an
odd angle for an attempted suicide. And when authorities asked the
artist if he had tried to kill himself, he said, "I believe so," and,
curiously, asked them not to accuse anyone else of the crime.
Finally, there was an account in a French medical journal from a man
who was a teenager when Van Gogh lived in Auvers. He claimed that he and
his brother, who visited the town during the summer, relentlessly
taunted the artist, played pranks on him and generally made his life
miserable. He also confessed that he was the original recipient of the
pistol Van Gogh supposedly killed himself with (it was lent to him by
the Ravoux innkeeper), but that Van Gogh had taken it from him. It's far
more likely, Naifeh and Smith write, that the boys accidentally shot
Van Gogh, and never revealed the truth out of shame. This would
corroborate rumors that circulated in Auvers for decades after the
If the revisionist story is true, why was Van Gogh so willing to cover
up the crime? Because, Steven Naifeh says, Van Gogh felt like a
financial burden to his brother Theo, and was prone to misery anyway.
The way Van Gogh saw it, "these kids had basically done him the favor of