This is just a tentative essay of my immediate reactions to the Naifeh & Smith book. I will probably come back with more.
A news of a brand new hypothesis of Van Gogh’s death was how I discovered the latest book about Vincent, “Van Gogh the Life”. Some article on the internet about their hypothesis saying that, in fact, Vincent did NOT committed suicide.
The truth is that I’ve tried to cheat a bit and read everything on Amazon. But they are not born yesterday, either. So, the essential pages were missing on the PDF thing available for freeloaders, poor artists, like myself. I had to regularly buy it. And I do not regret it because, even if I don’t love it or adore it, it’s an honest book, very well documented and written.
Did Vincent committed suicide? or not? That was the question. (My question for this post, not the book’s! In fact, I wouldn’t say they give a lot of space or excessive importance to the question). Almost no other author, until Naifeh & Smith, even considered another possibility than suicide. I have to confess I have my very frail and thin doubts because, in fact, there was a bit of a mystery and lots of confusions and contradictory facts, but I am just another Vincent’s fan and his legend can be, at times, pretty intimidating.
What’s to remain of his legend if one substracts the madness, the cutting of the ear and SUICIDE ? (I could verify and it was JUST an EAR LOBE, documented also in Naifeh & Smith; they tend to become a reference, weather one love them or not…)
So, here it is, in noce, the Naifeh & Smith (one has the tendency to think Smith & Wesson!) variant of Vincent’s death. They argue, convincingly, that in fact Vincent GOT shot by some young prankster (the most probable culprit: a young, reckless, rich playboy, playing cowboy (sorry for the pun!) – Vincent called “Puffalo Pill” to their endless amusement at his Dutch Buffalo Bill pronunciation! – by the name of Réné Sécretain). Based on his own testimony, and some others too, the authors conclude, after a convincing demonstration based on facts and logic, that Vincent, in circumstances unknown, was shot with an old, trigger sensible revolver belonging to Réné Sécretain either by accident or by recklessness (a prank gone bad). He returned to the Ravoux inn (but not from the far away location presumed, the romantic wheat fields but from a lot more nearer and prosaic location, a dung heap of a farm in Chaponval) to die, assuming the shooting both in order to protect the culprit but mostly because it suited him well at that precise timeline – he was extremely depressed and felt his whole life was coming to an end. ( Theo’s health and family situation made a burden out of Vincent and he feared another attack, etc.) Life, by this accident, did what he would probably do himself sooner or later. Vincent just took this opportunity as a godsend, accepted it and, after long hours of quiet and secret conversation with Theo, his brother and mecena, he expired.
I have to say I was (still am) convinced by this late hypothesis of Vincent’s death. At this moment in time, with the known facts and testimonies, Naifeh and Smith’s variant seems to be the truthful one.
Anyway, why is his death SO important (other than to reinforce a legend, a myth, very powerful and, as they say nowdays, “viral”) ?
What is really important is the beauty, the joy that his many masterpieces bring in our life. The rare feat of a man who, against many contrary odds, succeeded to create an amazing body of artworks.
The legend of the mad genius, the myth of the cursed artist…well, they are just that, legends, myths. Destined to fulfill our collective need for heroes and fiction.