Vincent van Gogh’s death occurred in the early morning of 29 July 1890, in his room at the Auberge Ravoux in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise in northern France. The Dutch painter was widely believed to have shot himself at the age of 37. He even confessing it on his deathbed.
For years everyone blamed his fragile mental health. In July 1890 after spending nearly a year in a asylum where he painted many of his most iconic paintings, including Starry Night obviously still suffered from a never ending rollercoaster of his mood. One day everything seemed to be fine and he was sending optimistic letters to his family. Another day he recalled all the suffering of his mind and soul.
On July 29th, 1890 van Gogh returned to the inn where he lived, after nightfall, probably around 9 pm, holding his stomach. When he show up, the family owning the inn was worried about his condition and asked if everything was fine. Van Gogh started to answer with difficulty, “No, but I have…” as he climbed the stairs up to his room.When the owner asked whether he was ill, van Gogh showed him a wound near his heart explaining: “I tried to kill myself.” During the night, van Gogh admitted he had set out for the wheat field where he had recently been painting. During the afternoon he had shot himself with a revolver and passed out. Revived by the coolness of the evening, he had tried in vain to find the revolver to complete the act. He then returned to the inn. After two days he died.
This account, like almost all the other “early accounts” of Van Gogh’s suicide are based on the testimony of one person: Adeline Ravoux, the daughter of the owner of the Ravoux Inn. Adeline was 13 at the time. She did not speak for the record until 1953. When she did, she mostly channeled the stories her father, Gustave, had told her half a century earlier. But her story changed with each telling.
But after 120 years this story has been questioned. Two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith made the shock claim that van Gogh had been shot, possibly accidentally, by a 16-year-old schoolboy. In their biography from 2011 Van Gogh: The Life they pointed to the nature of the bullet wound, relations with his brother Theo, and as well to a letter found in his pocket, which was way too optimistic for someone who would like to commit a suicide. And it wasn’t a suicide letter—it was a draft of a regular letter he sent to his brother on a day of the shooting.
There are also couple of other facts that doesn’t match. None of the earliest accounts of the shooting—those written in the days immediately after the event—mentioned suicide. They said only that Van Gogh had “wounded himself.” No one knew where he would have gotten a gun; no one ever found that gun, or any of the other items he had taken with him (canvas, easel, paints, etc.). His deathbed doctors, an obstetrician and a homeopathist, could make no sense of his wounds.
And, anyway, what kind of a person would try to kill himself with a shot to the midsection? Van Gogh was dying for 20 hours.
The biographers pointed to Gaston and René Secrétan, students at a Paris lycee, as responsible for the incident. René was interviewed in 1957 about the artist and revealed that he owned a pistol that Van Gogh may have taken. In Auvers René was a bully. He said he modeled his behavior on his hero, Buffalo Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show René had seen in Paris the year before. He even bought a souvenir costume and accessorized it with an old, small-caliber pistol that looked menacing but often misfired.
By the time René arrived for the summer, Van Gogh was already the object of rumor and ridicule. He trudged through town with his mangled ear and awkward load, setting himself up to paint anywhere he pleased. He drank. He argued fiercely in an unintelligible tumble of Dutch and French.
René cozied up to the lonely painter at his café conversations about art. He paid for another round of drinks. Afterward, René would mock the strange Dutchman to amuse his merry band of mischief-minded summer boys.