Alexandra Perez, Staff Writer

When we think of art, our minds involuntarily shift to the greatest painters in history. The ones perhaps we never specifically learned about, yet their legacy has left their names ever present in our societies. The talents that emerged from their brushes often make us forget that they were people too, with as much depth as the paintings themselves. An intricate, yet paradoxically cliche example rests in Vincent Willem Van Gogh. But this article will not address his 2,000 works of art, or the fact that he cut off his ear, or his self-portraits. No, this article will explain the intriguing way in which he left this Earth at the mere age of 37. For hundreds of years, books, movies, and even college-level art courses have accepted his tragic death as suicide. Yet, new evidence suggests that perhaps Van Gogh’s choice did not pull the trigger, but rather, hid the identity of his killer.

Before we reach the climax of this intriguing story, we must begin at the beginning. William Vincent Van Goghwas born on March 30, 1853 in Zundair, Netherlands. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 and became an apprentice for the art dealer company Goupil & Cie. Two days after his 23rd birthday, he was dismissed from the company. After losing his job, Vincent was financially supported by his younger brother, Theo. This unconditional support lasted for 5 years. To pay his brother back, Vincent tried to sell his art in Paris but was continuously rejected because his work “was not what the people of Paris were looking for”. Tragically, fame comes to artists posthumously and Van Gogh became victim to this recurring theme.

In 1888, he cut off his ear, and sent it to a prostitute, he later decided to admit himself into a psychiatric facility. In the facility, Vincent created his most famous pieces, such as the Starry Night and Irises. Two years later, once he had completed his stay, Theo told Vincent that he was considering starting his own business. Because he was still being supported by his brother, Vincent felt like a burden, he also worried about the impact of this large investment and his concern became fatal.

Van Gogh the Wild Man? Try Van Gogh the Suburban Professional - The New  York Times
History Archive/REX/

On the evening of July 27, 1890, Vincent left the Ravoux Inn, where he was staying at the time, to paint in the wheat fields. When Vincent returned after dusk, he didn’t have any of his painting supplies, he had his jacket buttoned all the way up, and clutched his abdomen as he made his way to his room. Realizing his struggle to walk, the manager of the hotel offered his aid, and in the process, Vincent explained that he had “wounded” himself, revealing a bullet hole under his coat.

Vincent Willem Van Gogh, at the mere age of 37, passed away. No autopsy was conducted, the exact location of the shooting remained unidentified, and five hours of his day were unaccounted for. When questioned by the police, Vincent responded with “I injured myself in the fields. I shot myself with a revolver there…Do not accuse anyone. It is I who wanted to kill myself.” The wound was below his ribcage, making it an awkward position to shoot himself; and the bullet did not exit his body, making it apparent that there was distance between him and the fire arm.

People in the small town where Vincent lived were not very nice to him because of his poor appearance, with wild hair, ratty clothes, and a missing ear. The worst of his treatment came from teenage boys, who pulled pranks on him.

René Secrétan was the leader of the aggravators. His older brother, Gaston was an aspiring artist who spent a lot of time learning from Vincent. René had an interest in fishing and hunting, and after watching Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Paris, he returned with a full cowboy outfit, including a .380 caliber pistol. The theory is that the boys accidentally fired the gun and Vincent returned to the inn to cover for them. In a panic, the boys collected Vincent’s belongings and cleaned the scene. In the wake of the shooting, the boys left town with their dad and when they returned, René no longer had the gun.

Despite these newfound facts, the story of a troubled artist seems to appeal more to aspiring painters. And even then, the murder of Vincent Willem Van remains a mystery. We’ll ever know the truth of what happened that day in the fields.

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