The Art of Anguish

A new biography of Vincent Van Gogh is causing quite a buzz in the art history world. The authors present new speculations about the Dutch artist’s death by gunshot in 1890, long believed to have been an act of suicide. The new theory suggests that Van Gogh may have been shot by another person, possibly by accident, and that Van Gogh chose to cover up the incident while on his deathbed. He implicated no one but himself, insisting that the wounds were both self-inflicted and intentional.

The suicide story always struck me as a bit sketchy. Van Gogh was shot in the stomach, which is unusual for a suicide. Most suicides by gunshot are aimed at the head. Also, where exactly Van Gogh would have gotten his hands on a pistol has always been a mystery. Mortally wounded, he somehow managed to stumble back from the fields near the French town of Auvers, up the stairs to his room where he died on his bed 30 hours later. His loyal brother Theo was by his side. The gun was never found, nor were Van Gogh’s paints and easel ever retrieved from the field.

Last night, the CBS program 60 Minutes did a lengthy segment of the subject and talked with the book’s authors, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. It was very interesting and thought-provoking, but it was also extremely sad. We all know that Van Gogh was a deeply troubled, maladjusted man who had great difficulty functioning in life. But after watching the program, it seems that Van Gogh’s situation was even worse that I thought. According to the authors, he had literally NO friends. Not even Gauguin was a real friend. Van Gogh was a loner but not by choice. He was an outcast who desperately longed for human companionship and kindness. Tragically, he found none in all his 37 years, with the sole exception of his brother who had his own problems and poor health to deal with.

In the 60 Minutes segment, the authors discussed the circumstances in Auvers, a place where Van Gogh hoped he could just paint and find some semblance of peace. Apparently some shithead local boys (alleged players in the shooting theory) found amusement in taunting and teasing the troubled Van Gogh. They made fun of him, laughed at him, thought it totally hilarious to humiliate him. Listening to that made me seethe. I became upset and angry to the point I wanted to throw something. Van Gogh was in tremendous personal pain to begin with, suffering from epilepsy, believing himself a failure at life, unloved and misunderstood. And these asshole kids decided to fuck with him for kicks. Tell me you wouldn’t want to travel back in time and beat the piss out of those brats? I would, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’ve never beaten anybody up in my life but I’d make an exception in this case. I don’t even care if those boys had anything to do with the shooting. They still suck. Poor Van Gogh. But at least he got the last word with the enormous success of his artwork after his death. It’s OK Vincent. The whole world loves you now 🙂

Let’s make today’s Music Monday in honor of Vincent Van Gogh. This video is nicely done. Van Gogh’s art set to the music of Edvard Grieg’s marvelous “Holberg Suite”:

3 thoughts on “The Art of Anguish

  1. I saw the 60 Minutes clip, but didn’t get to watch the show. I’m sure I would have been depressed, like you. I already don’t like Gauguin, and I’m sure that he came across as even more of a jerk.

    I’d like to learn more about these bratty kids and the murder theory in general – it sounds really interesting.

    • artmodel says:

      Alberti’s Window,

      Your comment got caught in my spam, sorry about that! Thanks for posting.

      The shooting theory was pretty interesting. But yes, the whole segment was very much a downer. So much pain and torment associated with Van Gogh’s life.


  2. violinhunter says:

    My understanding is that Van Gogh sold one painting during his lifetime. Judging from his correspondence, he was a really intelligent man. Many artists – musicians and painters – have experienced a measure of success up to the time they either went out of fashion or got old, then they have died in poverty and utter obscurity. That too, is sad. Even the likes of Da Vinci, toward the end of his life, thought that all his work had been in vain. This new theory is fascinating.

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