According to a 2011 biography, Van Gogh: The Life, Vincent van Gogh did not kill himself.
Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith claim that, contrary to popular belief, it was more likely Vincent van Gogh was shot accidentally by two boys he knew who had “a malfunctioning gun”.
The authors came to their conclusion after 10 years of study with more than 20 translators and researchers.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam called the claim “dramatic” and “intriguing”.
In a statement, however, curator Leo Jansen said “plenty of questions remain unanswered” and that it would be “premature to rule out suicide”.
He added that the new claims would “generate a great deal of discussion”.
Vincent van Gogh died in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, in 1890 aged 37
Vincent van Gogh died in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, in 1890 aged 37.
The Dutch master had been staying at the Auberge Ravoux inn from where he would walk to local wheat fields to paint.
It has long been thought that he shot himself in a wheat field before returning to the inn where he later died.
Steven Naifeh said 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 decided to protect them by accepting the blame.”
He said that renowned art historian John Rewald had recorded that version of events when he visited Auvers in the 1930s and other details were found that corroborated the theory.
They include the assertion that the bullet entered Van Gogh’s upper abdomen from an oblique angle – not straight on as might be expected from a suicide.
“These two boys, one of whom was wearing a cowboy outfit and had a malfunctioning gun that he played cowboy with, were known to go drinking at that hour of day with Vincent.
“So you have a couple of teenagers who have a malfunctioning gun, you have a boy who likes to play cowboy, you have three people probably all of whom had too much to drink.”
He said “accidental homicide” was “far more likely”.
“It’s really hard to imagine that if either of these two boys was the one holding the gun – which is probably more likely than not – it’s very hard to imagine that they really intended to kill this painter.”
Gregory White Smith, meanwhile, said Vincent van Gogh did not “actively seek death but that when it came to him, or when it presented itself as a possibility, he embraced it”.
He said Van Gogh’s acceptance of death was “really done as an act of love to his brother, to whom he was a burden”.
Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, was funding the artist who, at that time, “wasn’t selling”.
Other revelations claimed by the authors include that:
Van Gogh’s family tried to commit him to a mental asylum long before his voluntary confinement later
Van Gogh fought so furiously with his parson father that some of his family accused the artist of killing him
Van Gogh’s affliction, viewed as a mix of mania and depression, was a result of a form of epilepsy
Gregory White Smith said the biography, published on November 10, helped to give a greater understanding of a “frail and flawed figure” and that his art would be seen “as even more of an achievement”.
Thousands of previously untranslated letters written by the artist were among documents studied by the authors to create a research database containing 28,000 notes.
A previously unknown Vincent van Gogh painting has been identified by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Sunset at Montmajour – which depicts trees, bushes and sky – had spent years in a Norwegian private collector’s attic after he had been told the work was not by the Dutch master.
The museum said the painting was authenticated by letters, style and the physical materials used.
It is the first full-size canvas by Vincent van Gogh discovered since 1928.
Museum director Axel Rueger called the discovery a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” at an unveiling ceremony.
Axel Rueger said the institution had previously rejected the painting’s authenticity in the 1990s partly because it was not signed.
However, thanks to new research techniques and a two-year investigation, it concluded the artwork was by the artist.
Researcher Teio Meedendorp said he and other researchers “found answers to all the key questions, which is remarkable for a painting that has been lost for more than 100 years”.
Sunset at Montmajour had spent years in a Norwegian private collector’s attic after he had been told the work was not by Vincent van Gogh
The piece can be dated to the exact day it was painted because Vincent van Gogh described it in a letter to his brother, Theo, saying he had painted it the previous day – on 4 July 1888.
He added he painted it “on a stony heath where small twisted oaks grow”.
The details in the letter had previously been attributed to another of Vincent van Gogh’s works – entitled The Rocks – despite that work missing some of the elements he describes.
But researchers have now identified the location Sunset at Montmajour depicts as being near Montmajour hill, near Arles in France, where the artist was living at the time.
Writing in The Burlington Magazine, Teio Meedendorp said almost all the pigments used in the artwork were ones he “habitually had on his palette at this time”, including a cobalt blue he began using from the summer of 1887 onwards.
The painting was also listed among Theo van Gogh’s collection as number 180 – and that number can still be seen on the back of the canvas.
After the work was sold in 1901, it apparently vanished until it re-appeared in the estate of Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad upon his death in 1970.
According to Mustad’s family, the French ambassador to Sweden visited the collector soon after he bought the painting and suggested it was fake or had been wrongly attributed.
Consequently, Christian Nicolai Mustad banished the piece to the attic.
After his death, the collector’s family contacted the Van Gogh museum in 1991 to verify its authenticity, but it was eventually decided it was not by the artist.
The painting will be on display at the museum from September 24.
Belgian researchers have spotted a never-before-seen chemical effect in Vincent Van Gogh’s Flowers In A Blue Vase that is dulling the work’s vibrant yellows.
It seems a layer of varnish added later to protect the work is in fact turning the yellow to a greyish-orange color.
High-intensity X-ray studies described in Analytical Chemistry found compounds called oxalates were responsible.
But atoms from the original paint were also found in the varnish, which may therefore be left in place.
It is not the first time that the bright yellows that Van Gogh preferred have been examined with X-rays.
A layer of varnish added later to protect Van Gogh work Flowers In A Blue Vase is in fact turning the yellow to a greyish-orange color
In 2011, an article in the same journal from a team led by the University of Antwerp’s Koen Janssens reported that a pigment Van Gogh favored called chrome yellow degraded when other, chromium-containing pigments were present.
The new work was begun during a conservation treatment in 2009, when conservators found that the yellows in Flowers In A Blue Vase – this time from a pigment called cadmium yellow – had turned greyish and cracked.
Normally, cadmium yellow grows paler and less vibrant as it ages.
So the team again took tiny samples of the work to some of Europe’s largest sources of X-rays: the ESRF in France and Desy in Germany. Both use vast particle accelerators to speed up electrons, which spray out X-rays as they pass around the accelerators.
The purpose was to determine not only what was in the samples in terms of atoms and molecules, but also the precise structures in the interface layer between the original paint and the varnish.
That is where the team was shocked to find a compound called cadmium oxalate as the cause of the grey-orange pallor.
“The contact layer between the varnish and the paint, where the cadmium oxalate is found, is micrometer thin,” said Dr. Koen Janssens.
“If we had not used methods that allow us to interrogate this very thin layer, we would never have noticed that there were oxalates there.”
Oxalates are commonly found in much older works, and in association with different pigments. This is the first time that cadmium has been seen to form oxalates within the varnish – a protective measure that was added much later.
“Van Gogh didn’t like to varnish his paintings – he liked them, let’s say, rough,” Dr. Koen Janssens said.
“It was only after he died that these paintings found their way into the art market and into private and public collections and individual conservators would say <<we’re going to varnish it because we do that with all our paintings>>.”
That some of the Van Gogh’s paint has been drawn into the varnish creates a troubling problem for conservators, who of course want to prevent any further degradation but are duty-bound not to remove any original material.
The particular chemical reaction may be putting the yellows of other works at risk by Van Gogh and others, but it does not happen with every type of varnish.
For now, perhaps the world’s best collection of Van Gogh’s work – at the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands – seems safe.
“I don’t anticipate it will be a wide-scale problem for our particular collection, given its conservation history,” said Ella Hendriks, the museum’s head of conservation.
“But of course it’s always good to be aware of the possibility that you could come across this in other paintings,” she said.
“This type of information for conservators is very valuable because it helps us understand the condition of the paintings and make the right choices about how we can best conserve them.”