Van Gogh’s Suicide Gun
The rusty 7 mm revolver that Van Gogh allegedly used for killing himself with in 1890 has sold for €162,500 ($183,000) in an auction.
Is the auctioned pistol really the same weapon the painter had used on July 27, 1890 to kill himself? The pistol, a Lefaucheux, was found in the same field where the artist was shot by a farmer in the 1960s. It is impossible to confirm but the auctioneer M. Grégoire Veyrès indicated that the identity of the weapon is based on ‘a strong presumption’. AuctionArt, who put the object on sale, is said to have followed the investigation led by a local historian, Alain Rohan, and published in a book in 2012 with the intriguing title: ‘Vincent Van Gogh, have we found the suicide weapon?
Rohan confirmed that the location of the field where the revolver was found behind the castle of Auvers-sur-Oise corresponded to the descriptions of the few testimonies of the time. ‘He had gone to the wheat field where he painted his last painting. This field is located behind the castle of Auvers,’ wrote Adeline Carrié, daughter of the innkeeper Arthur Ravoux, in 1954. She said that she had seen Vincent Van Gogh return injured to the inn on the evening of 27 July 1890. Solicited by the historian, the French police also carried out an investigation. Based on the notes of Dr Gachet’s son, describing the pain of the painter, Yves Schuliar, the chief medical officer of the judicial department of the Gendarmerie, ruled that the weapon found may have caused the wound in question. He explained in 2015 to Le Parisien that, according to him, ‘the shot was fired at close range, about 2 to 3 cm from the chest, after Vincent opened his clothes and spread his chest in front of the barrel’.
The Van Gogh Institute, that looks after the house where he spent his final days, however, criticised the auction.’Nothing suggests that the remains (of the gun) are formally linked with the death of Van Gogh,’ it said in a statement, denouncing the ‘commercialisation of a tragedy which deserves more respect’.
It may be recalled that the suicide thesis was questioned in 2011 by two American researchers. They believed that the painter was accidentally hit by a shot from a weapon with which two teenagers acquainted with him, were playing in the field. According to these researchers, the artist would have remained silent to protect the boys.
However, this is not the most expensive revolver that has ever been auctioned. In 2016, another revolver, also a Lefaucheux, with which the French poet Paul Verlaine had tried to kill Arthur Rimbaud in 1873, was sold for 435,000 euros at the Christie’s.