Van Gogh was Shot By Teen, Claims New Book

Teen accidentally shot artist, who didn't want kid to get in trouble, say authors

By Greg Wilson
|  Monday, Oct 17, 2011  |  Updated 11:22 AM EDT
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Vincent Van Gogh led a tortured life, but a new book says he was murdered and did not die by his own hand.

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Vincent van Gogh might have lopped off his own ear, but he didn't kill himself, say the authors of a new book about the master painter.

"Van Gogh: The Life," a 900-page tome by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, casts doubt on the long-accepted version that the Dutch artist shot himself in the chest in a French field in 1890, at the age of 37. The book, according to the Telegraph, says the most likely cause of Van Gogh's death was an accidental shooting by a local boy.

After being mortally wounded, van Gogh staggered more than a mile back to an inn in Auvers, where he died the next day. When he was asked if he meant to commit suicide, he said: "Yes I believe so."

While the authors acknowledge that no one knows what happened, they posit an alternative version of events. The shot was fired by a 16-year-old boy named Rene Secretan, who lived nearby and who got to know van Gogh, buying him drinks but also taunting him.

Noting there was no suicide message and that the artist went into the field with his easel and paints, Naifeh told the BBC it was "very clear to us that he did not go into the wheat fields with the intention of shooting himself".

"The accepted understanding of what happened in Auvers among the people who knew him was that he was killed accidentally by a couple of boys and he decide to protect them by accepting the blame," he said.

The authors claim van Gogh didn't point the finger at the boy because he didn't want the teenager to be punished and he wanted to die, anyway. He had been in an insane asylum and was troubled most of his life.

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