fyi ~ Psst... Look here! Robinsons Secret Sale ~ Wed, 19 Oct 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I read this in The Australian Newspaper today...
News ~ GUNNED DOWN ~ Van Gogh was shot by a cowboy. Really
18 Oct 2011, The Australian
by BEN HOYLE, THE TIMES
VINCENT Van Gogh did not commit suicide but was shot by a teenager with a Wild West obsession and a faulty gun, according to a new biography. Short of claiming that the Dutch artist never cut off his ear and never painted sunflowers, the Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of Van Gogh: The Life could hardly have produced a more startling revelation from their decade of research. In their words, the legend of the tortured, unappreciated artist shooting himself in a wheatfield at the end of a short, miserable life was integral to the ''meteoric ascent of Vincent's celebrity in the decades immediately after his death''. He is supposed to have staggered nearly 2km back across the fields to the inn where he was staying with a gunshot wound to his chest. Before he died 30 hours later, he was asked whether he had meant to commit suicide. He replied vaguely: ''Yes, I believe so.'' This version does not tally with letters in which Van Gogh opposed suicide as a ''cowardly act''. Nor does it explain why the easel and brushes he had taken to the fields with him that day, not to mention a gun, were never found. And why would he shoot himself in the chest rather than the head, and having failed to get a clean shot, why did he not fire a second bullet? While the authors, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, accept that ''no one knows what happened'' , an appendix to their 900-page book sets out an alternative scenario for the events in Auvers, France, on July 27, 1890, they argue makes far more sense than the traditional account. They think the fatal shot was fired by an adventurous 16-yearold boy named Rene Secretan, who was spending the summer at a villa nearby and whose complex relationship with Van Gogh included buying him drinks and mercilessly baiting him. Secretan liked to wear a cowboy costume that he accessorised with a real gun, an erratic old .380 calibre pistol, for shooting squirrels, birds and fish. He admitted, in detail, his abusive behaviour towards Van Gogh but was vague and, Naifeh and Smith argue, inconsistent on the artist's death, saying he learned of it from a Paris newspaper, although no such account is known to exist. The authors combine this evidence with other accounts to arrive at their reconstruction, including that of the writer Wilfred Arnold, who recalled the art historian John Rewald telling him he had visited Auvers in the 1930s and heard rumours that Van Gogh had been shot accidentally by two boys and had taken the blame to protect them. Naifeh and Smith believe that is what happened, and that Van Gogh, who was ''more psychologically troubled, sadder and lonelier than we had any idea'', then welcomed death as a way out. ''We have thought about this revelation long and hard,'' Naifeh told The Times. ''And our feeling is that it ennobles Vincent. If in fact the person who pulled the trigger wasn't Vincent but Rene, for him to take the blame because he realised it was an accident and it would ruin these two boys' lives was an act of generosity.'' Smith spent 18 months reading Van Gogh's letters ''10 hours a day, six or seven days a week''. Leo Jansen, curator of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, has called the book ''the definitive biography for decades to come''. Ann Dumas, who curated last year's Royal Academy show Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters, called it ''an amazing tour de force'', but said of the account of how Van Gogh had died: ''It's just a theory. It's very tightly argued and very well supported by documentary evidence. I think it is possible but we can't say more than that.''