PARIS – The sale of a pistol that killed Vincent Van Gogh is on show ahead of its sale on Wednesday and has revived the dispute as to who actually pulled the trigger?
The weapon, a Lefaucheux revolver, was found in 1960 by a farmer in the field where Van Gogh allegedly fatally shot himself in the chest and the Drouot auction house in Paris (France) is expecting the morbid object to sell for anywhere between €40,000-60,000.
Two days after his serious injury, the 19th-century artist died in room number 5 of the Arthur Ravoux inn in Auvers-sur-Oise (northwest of Paris).
Gregoire Veyres, a specialist at the Drouot auction house, told Efe that all clues point to the weapon being the pistol that killed Van Gogh.
The 7 mm caliber of the revolver, which is now rusty and eroded after remaining buried for over half a decade, matches the bullet that was retrieved from the artist’s body, a doctor who tended to him described.
The gun itself is considered low power, and that could also explain why Van Gogh didn’t die immediately, the auction house said in a statement.
Most of those who consider the painter killed himself rely on the fact that Van Gogh was plagued by mental health issues throughout his life.
He continued to paint through the recurrent bouts of depression and anxiety which were documented in his many letters to his brother Theo.
“How much sadness there is in life, nevertheless one must not get melancholy, and one must seek distraction in other things, and the right thing is to work, but there are moments when one only finds rest in the conviction: ‘Misfortune will not spare me either’,” he wrote to his brother on Sept. 15, 1883.
Van Gogh’s creative prowess was in many ways fueled by his emotional frailty.
In fact, some of his most productive periods were often linked to challenging moments and some might say madness.
In 1988, after a row with fellow painter Paul Gaugin, Van Gogh famously chopped his left ear off, although other accounts suggest it was the French painter who sectioned it.
It was in that same year when he was admitted to a psychiatric facility that he produced a series of artworks with hypnotic swirling motifs, such as “The Starry Night” (June 1889) which were later considered seminal works.
“Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all,” he said.
Van Gogh left the hospital in May 1880 and moved to the Auvers-sur-Oise inn where months later, aged 37, he died.
During this period Van Gogh painted prolifically, producing more than one canvass a day, but his health dwindled towards the end of July.
On July 27, 1890, the artist went to a field near the inn and shot himself in the chest with a pistol. He fainted and the gun fell to the ground.
Van Gogh awoke at dusk, severely injured and dragged himself back to the inn where he died in agony on the night of July 29.
This is the theory that the Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum, the most established authority on the painter worldwide, supports.
However, another theory emerged in 2011 that suggested that Van Gogh didn’t kill himself and could have in fact been the victim of a tragic accident.
Steven Naifeh y Gregory White Smith, a pair of American researchers, came to the conclusion after extensive investigations that the painter was shot by a young boy who was playing with the gun next to him.
The child was with a friend when he accidentally shot and injured Van Gogh, Naifeh and White Smith said.
They published their findings in “Van Gogh: The Life,” a biography they wrote based on research which included access to the Van Gogh Museum Archive and unpublished letters.
The auction house said that even if this were true, the gun to be auctioned could still be the one that killed Van Gogh.
The revolver was first exhibited to the public by in 2012 at the launch of the book “Did we find the suicide weapon?” by Alain Rohan who investigated the case in some depth.
The weapon was later shown at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam between July and Sept. in 2016.