Van Gogh: new book says he didn't commit suicide

"Van Gogh: The Life" says the artist was shot, possibly accidentally, by two teenage boys.

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A new book offers a hypothesis on how artist Vincent van Gogh really died.

More than 100 years after his death, a new biography of Vincent van Gogh has reopened the mystery as to how the artist died.

The 976-page book by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, titled “Van Gogh: The Life,” will be released tomorrow and has already been the subject of a “60 Minutes” special because of its claims. In the book, Naifeh and Smith state that the long-held belief that van Gogh shot himself in a field while painting is not true and that he was shot in the chest by two teenage boys who often teased him.

Naifeh and Smith say it’s unclear whether the shooting was an accident and that van Gogh covered up what had happened because he didn’t want the two boys, who the authors say were Rene Secretan and his brother Gaston, to be punished. The authors’ theory offers a new solution to the questions that had arisen after Van Gogh’s death, which occurred after the artist got himself to the rooming house where he was staying, saying he had made the trip from the wheat field to the house, which was more than a mile. Historians have wondered how van Gogh obtained a gun, how he managed to drag himself from the field to his temporary home with his injuries, why the wound occurred at such a strange angle, and what happened to the artist’s painting tools as well as the gun.

Van Gogh wrote in his letters that he was tired of living, and Naifeh said in his appearance on “60 Minutes” that the artist “decided to basically protect them and accept this as the way to die. These kids had basically done him the favor of, of shooting him.”

Not everyone’s convinced: the curator of the Van Gogh Museum and editor of his letters, Leo Jansen, told the Associated Press that the book was “great,” but the theory seems unlikely.

“We cannot yet agree with their conclusions because we do not think there is enough evidence yet,” Jansen said.

He said that the circumstances surrounding Van Gogh’s death were certainly murky – it just needs more investigation.

“There's plenty of reason to look at the unclear circumstances again,” Jansen said of the artist’s death. “It's just that their conclusion, in our opinion, is not yet sufficiently proven.”

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

Join the Monitor's book discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.