The Curious Death of Vincent Van Gogh

this week on BuzzFeed unsolved we take a look at the death of Vincent van Gogh long thought to be suicide but as recent writings may suggest may actually be murder excuse me what we’re gonna cover a murder on this show no but if a man who long thought to have taken his own life I mean he was a bit eccentric and had a history of bodily harm so maybe people assumed it was suicide but there are some things in here that at least for me yeah are fairly convincing that it may be something a little bit more sinister well I’m here for it what you know about go you know he’s a Dutch guy paint a lot you know very dreamy cut off his ear you did that self-portrait you know yeah you do a selfie all right we’re done here that is case closed no we got him we got Monday all right season finale let’s do it baby let’s get into it Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30th 1853 in zunda Netherlands he was the oldest surviving child of the odorous van Gogh and Anna Carr Bendis Vincent would eventually have five younger siblings the one he would formed the closest relationship with being his brother Theo despite his good grades Vincent left secondary school before graduating at age 16 he began his art career as an apprentice with goo peel and see an international art dealer where his uncle was a partner Vincent first worked for goo peel in The Hague then in London and finally in Paris where he was dismissed from the company in 1876 two days after his 23rd birthday kind of a double-edged sword back then because it’s neat that you can just jump into an apprenticeship at age 16 like yeah I’m probably gonna be a legend in the art field I’ll do that you could still do that today though I feel like people start apprenticeships quite young but they don’t really do like it’s 16 yeah I remember applying for an apprenticeship at Warner Bros at 16 how’d that turn out I didn’t get it hmm so I hope you’re watching this now and know what you missed out on Jack Warner Jack in 1881 after five years of wandering Europe and bouncing between dead-end jobs such as lay preacher Vincent moved back in with his parents who worried about their sons lack of direction in life bo who had also gone to work for the art dealer goopy landsea but had risen through the ranks to become a manager began sending his older jobless brother money for the next few years Vincent would move out for periods but returned to his parents home it’s interesting because nowadays people you know people get to age like 24 and they’re like I just don’t want to know I don’t know what I want to be in life well it is kind of funny that he is this 19th century millennial just wandering around yeah not really sure what his purpose is and if Vincent van this is a this is an aspirational tale for all you out there if Vincent van Gogh is going through this similar struggle you know you can make something of yourself just out there with his brush saying I’ll put this on something you put in front of me I’ll put it to it that I feel like yeah where’d that big no no it’s probably exactly what he said to people I’ll put the songs give me a job I’ll put this on so I’ll put this on something you put it in front of me I’ll put it to it in 1884 Vincent now in his 30s wanted to start paying Theo back for all the support he had given him over the years Vincent began sending his paintings to do in Paris for him to sell unfortunately for all parties Vincent’s work was not what the people of parents were looking for I always wondered about this when it comes to famous artists obviously it took them usually decades to find what made them famous wouldn’t you say that the paintings like their early drafts when they really sucked wouldn’t those be worth more cuz it’s like seeing the journey is worth more but the probably worth a lot like a year one van Gogh yeah I feel like that when you say it that way it sounds like it should be it’s a little shit yeah a little hmm I didn’t know he had a year one Van Gogh in his house I know he was doing that well that’s pretty good it looks like shit but you know there’s a lot of that out of there for Picasso he’s got a lot of really stuff out though Pablo yeah him oh you’re not talking the other Picasso Ted Picasso over the next five years Vincent’s life would appear to once again be mired by folly as he started a failed art collective and continued his nomadic habitation of Europe during this period however the style now associated with Vincent began to take form the tones used in his paintings began to light it he developed his characteristic style of using short brushstrokes and he moved to brighter more colorful subjects such as portraits often self-portraits and city scenes unfortunately for Vincent the progress of his art happened during a time of declining mental health culminating in late 1888 when Vincent famously severed his own ear and wrapped it up as a present for a sex worker the day after this eerie occurrence like that one Vincent was admitted to the hospital where he stayed until early 1889 for the next few months Vincent struggled with his mental health eventually checking himself into a psychiatric hospital in May during his one-year stay at the hospital Vincent made some of his most famous masterpieces in his first week there he started painting the irises in the asylums garden while Vincent considered the paintings merely a study irises is considered one of his most iconic pieces the starry night now one of the most famous paintings in the world depicts the view from a window in the asylum enhanced by Vincent’s imagination in January of 1890 Theo and his wife welcomed their newborn son Vincent Willem van Gogh into the world named after the infant’s uncle Vincent sent them his famous painting almond blossom from the hospital as a gift for his new nephew all told while in the asylum Vincent made about 150 paintings and by 1890 his work was finally being exhibited in receiving positive reviews I don’t know if I agree with this narrative all the time where art needs to come from this like darker place of misery or maybe like turmoil yeah within your head you don’t need to be troubled to make good art it happens but I think I think intense emotion or introspection can obviously fuel it yeah like a breakup or a death yeah but it is weird that great art is often not appreciated when it comes out it’s true why that is I mean a lot of it is you know well maybe because like the artist mind is more enhanced at that moment and the world is not ready for it yet so they’re ahead of me that could be after being released from the mental hospital in Maine Vincent moved to overshare wass an area with other artists not far from Paris which allowed for him to easily visit Theo’s family in Paris on one such visit in July Theo told his brother he was considering starting his own business this news greatly unsettled Vincent who not only felt like a burden to his brother who was still supporting Vincent but also worried about the impact of Theo taking this gamble on his own finances after lunch on July 27th 1890 Vincent left the Revo Inn where he was staying in ovair with his easel and painting supplies it was a warm evening so the inn keepers and guests were enjoying dinner outside after sunset when Vincent returned he shuffled past without exchanging any words he also noted Lee had none of the belongings he left with and had his jacket buttoned all the way up despite the heat he clutched his abdomen and limped up the stairs to his room Gustave Ravel the owner of the inn went to check on Vincent the artist was curled up in his bed and when Gustav asked him what was the matter Vincent replied quote I wounded myself and quilt he lifted his clothing to reveal a bullet hole under his ribs that said it is said one thing to note from this is it’s a bit odd that he would take all of his painting supplies in his easel out only to then kill himself and then walk back with none if they like why not just leave all that stuff in your apartment if that was what your plan was who knows how these things creep up on a person that is true well we’re gonna get into it more in the theories okay bill arrived midday on the 28th to find Vincent in bed smoking Vincent van Gogh died just after midnight cradled by his brother after telling him quote I want to die like this and quote at just 37 years old Vincent’s life and career was over leaving behind nearly 1300 works of art on paper and more than 850 paintings with no autopsy ever conducted the exact location of the shooting never identified and a five-hour period between the time he left the inn and when he returned unaccounted for it’s time to dive into some theories the first and prevailing theory is that Vincent was in trouble genius who shot himself in a wheat field according to aniline Revo that then 13 year old daughter of the inn owner Gustav quote Vincent had gone toward the wheat field where he had painted before during the afternoon as my father understood it Vincent shot himself and fainted the coolness of the night revived him on all fours he looked for the gun to finish himself off but he could not find it then Vincent got up and climbed down the hillside to return to our house and quote hmm yeah I could see that oftentimes when people commit suicide the weapons right there the means is right there there’s usually a note it’s very odd to be like shoot myself now let’s go hide this gun yeah I mean it’s a weed field you know I don’t know how dense those are but unless he tossed the gun which maybe he did at the same time how thorough of a search do you think he’s doing if he is currently bleeding out well you’ll also come to find that no one else could find the gun either interesting now do you understand why I think that’s so weird now I understand right perhaps no one was more adamant about this theory than Vincent himself witnesses recalled Vincent saying quote I wounded myself in the fields I shot myself with a revolver there and quote he was emphatic saying quote do not accuse anyone it is I who wanted to kill myself end quote witnesses did say however that Vincent appeared confused as he lay dying replying to the police’s question of did you intend to commit suicide with quote I think so and would Vincent had also in the past morbidly joked about suicide he once told Theo he would quote cease to be end quote if he ever felt that he had become a burden or a nuisance to his brother could his fear of complicating his soon-to-be unemployed brother’s life have driven him to kill himself one and while this story is the one Vincent seemingly wanted the world to hear there are some glaring issues with it for one Vincent was shot in the abdomen below his ribs which is an odd position to take if he had been aiming for his heart additionally the fact that the bullet did not exit Vincent’s body suggests there was some distance between Vincent and the gun more distance than Vincent could have achieved on his own it’s also suspicious that Vincent allegedly dropped the gun so far out of reach that when he came to he couldn’t find it to finish the job what’s more if he had actually passed out four hours after shooting himself his wound would have been much bloodier than it was when he returned to the inn so if he did shoot himself it would have been larger yeah because it had been so much time till when he got to the inn it suggests that it happened sooner than he said it did or like he was getting his theory that he fell asleep woke back up came to the inn it would have been so much bigger yeah so they’re saying like he probably got shot right away then walked to the end which would also explain then why he carried out his art supplies because he didn’t go oh yeah getting shots in the plans today right so you know it makes sense okay apart from the heart to explain ballistics no one knows where Vincent would have obtained the gun revolvers were very rare in Auvers at the time and no one would admit to selling or lending Vincent a gun the next day no one was able to find a gun where Vincent purportedly did the deed all of Vincent’s painting gear too seemed to have vanished all his painting gear yes from where he left it in the fields mm-hmm so no gun none of the paint stuff that he walked out with yeah all the other stuff that I just mentioned do you think someone was aware that this was Vinnie’s stuff and was like I’ll get a pretty penny for this feel like we would have seen it by now I mean frankly people at BuzzFeed’s steal lunches out of the fridges all the time you don’t think someone was just like hey free stuff true someone did steal some of this stuff from our set yeah some of loose stuff from around here all the more precious props you think we don’t notice that come here curse timmy’s ball is gone yeah this is this is this is a fake this is a sham this is a fake ball this isn’t timmy’s someone stole Timmy’s ball what if Timmy came back and took it I thought about that but on things you did in addition to the questions the physical evidence raises Vincent was a religious man who condemned suicide calling it wicked and a demonstration of moral cowardice at one point prior to his death he even said quote I really do not think I am a man with such inclinations end quote any time he did have thoughts of suicide it was always by way of drowning saying quote I can understand people drowning themselves end quote suicide is wrong I do not understand it it’d be pretty baller to drown it’s just a weird thing to just tack on as a button at the end of it yeah cuz drowning arguably seems like the main force but why is it more morally sound I’ve heard that it is agony Oh God did you really just sneak a prestige quote and I don’t know vo also found no evidence that Vincent was planning on killing himself finding no suicide note but instead drafts of letters on his desk that he surely didn’t want anyone to read with so many loose ends in the suicide Theory it’s time to look at another hypothesis this one posited by biographer Steven nayfeh and Gregory white Smith nayfeh and spent suggest Vincent was shot by some local boys and that Vincent protected their identities to begin it’s worth going back to get a better picture of what life was like for Vincent in ‘auvairs he was known to be quite eccentric and when he would approach people in the street to ask if they would sit for him most people retreated his appearance didn’t help matters with wild hair ratty clothes and you know a missing ear as is often the case the worst bullies were the teenage boys they would pretend to be nice to the artist to gain his trust then pull pranks on him like throwing salt in his coffee rubbing chili pepper on a dry paintbrush Vince intended to suck and putting a snake in his box of painting supplies boys the way they are yeah what a nerd god I’d love to just transport them here and be like hey you know that guy who I put a funny snake in smile but you know you put some salt in his car museum he’s he’s the museum that you’re standing in front of the museum yeah I can’t believe boys would be that mean to a funny old man I could believe it teenage boys are the worst I remember being obnoxious as a team yeah it’s inevitable if you’re pranking a stranger I find it not as funny it’s just me that just means it’s just me and this is me one of the boys who would tease Vincent was Rene secreto who said quote our favorite game was making him angry which was easy end quote look I read his face is getting Rene’s older brother Gaston was an aspiring artist who like to hear Vincent’s tales of the Parisian art world Vincent figured Rene was just something he had to endure in order to have a friendship with Gaston Rene unlike his brother had no interest in art instead enjoying fishing and hunting after seeing Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Paris Rene came back to ‘auvairs with a full outfit of western clothes complete with fringe coat cowboy boots and added a 380 caliber pistol Vincent started calling Rene Buffalo Pihl a mispronunciation of Buffalo Bill due to his accent which only angered the boy more I love it I love Vincent getting back at him because I’m sure this guy just showed up and Van Gogh was just like oh Buffalo Bill and it was like I just said he’s puffle Oh pills pull off those pistols bins oh what a burn walked I love that kid taking his hat off slamming on the ground stomping on it so to hear him get a little win in there prank war I love it that’s Gregg’s me happy in their book Ben go to life authors neethu and Smith speculate that the secretaries quarreled with Vincent around a farmyard on Boucher Road they may have accidentally fired the gun striking Vincent in his abdomen Vincent then stumbled back towards the end where he covered for the boys the boys in shock at what they had done may have collected Vincent’s belongings and fled the same destroying what evidence might remain it seems plausible one because he’s a sweet man yes and clearly he put up with his bullying for a long time so they’re being very cruel to him and he’s still just kind of like hey that’s just how it goes a relationship with one of the Brotherhood and that’s the other thing if he’s close with Gaston then maybe he doesn’t want to point fingers to Rene yeah cuz it’s gonna ruin their life it’s devastating thing yeah I buy it I think I could get behind this the theory is supported by the fact that multiple witnesses saw Vincent leave the inn and head towards the hamlet of Shaban ball and not towards the fields where he claimed he’d been painting that road leads to a spot and was where Rene enjoyed fishing it’s possible Rene and his brother met Vincent on their way back from wass went to a nearby farmyard and then the boys accidentally shot the artist that would also make it easier for Vincent to get back to the inn with a bullet in his stomach as opposed to a steep mile long trek back from the wheat fields this theory would explain a lot of things the suicide story does not such as the odd entry point of the bullet the lack of suicide note why Vincent took his painting equipment to kill himself why all that gear and the gun could not be found and why he didn’t shoot himself in the head they don’t think that Rene would have been so upset about the cloud about the cowboy about that puffle oh yeah that he would I would hope not see that and that makes this story get a different kind of turn yeah still sweet of him to cover but I really really don’t want to accept the fact that maybe Rene did shoot him on purpose in the wake of the shooting Rene Gaston and their father left town when they returned Rene who rarely traveled anywhere without his pissed no longer had the gun when asked about it decades later Rene said Vincent stole it from him in the 1930s as Vincent’s work was beginning to gain notoriety townspeople told an art historian that young boys shot Vincent on accident and that Vincent protected their identities for fear they’d be accused of murder still largely due to Irving stones 1934 novelization of Vincent’s life and death and the 1956 movie that followed the idea of Vincent van Gogh being a tortured genius who took his own life crystallized in the public consciousness in a story that may feel familiar for those of us in our 20s and 30s Vincent spent much of his life looking for a purpose trying to find a path that could at once fulfill himself while also bringing joy to others what he didn’t know at the time of his death was that his work would be beloved by generations inspiring countless others to pursue their life’s true purpose what he did know at the time of his death was how that fateful bullet found a home inside his abdomen but as for the rest of us that truth will remain unsolved well that’s a lovely little story I got to be honest I didn’t think that the alternative would be a little bit heartwarming yeah I would say so II would it definitely paints a different image completely of him in my mind because I like most of the public did think he was a tortured genius in his own life but this paints him has a very empathetic understanding man the underlying theme being human kindness yeah not bad it’s a good thing to try take it for a world yeah it’s definitely a good way to end the season Oh see we don’t agree on anything but right now maybe we like this move so you all take a cue from this and we’re all gonna be golden

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