The Unsolved Mystery of Van Gogh

By Amelie Arango

TW: Suicide

When you think of Van Gogh, what do you think of? Starry night? His self-portrait? Or do you think of the mystery behind his death? While not very well-known, Van Gogh’s death proves interesting and controversial. 

On the evening of July 9, 1890, Van Gogh arrived at his house, holding his stomach. He reported to his daughter that he had taken a revolver and tried to commit suicide. According to the account, he had gone out to the wheat field where he often painted and passed out after shooting himself. He told all this to his daughter, who didn’t tell this story until 50 years had passed, and the story often changed. 

Many experts on Van Gogh’s life have theorized that Van Gogh was actually shot by a 16-year-old schoolboy. While many may point to Van Gogh’s mental health as making the story of his suicide possible, a letter was found in his pocket the day of the incident. The letter, addressed to his brother Theo, was far too optimistic for a suicide note. Instead, it reads like a regular letter. 

In addition, the bullet was found in his midsection. If he had truly wanted to commit suicide, the midsection might not have been the place where he would try to shoot himself. No one knew where he obtained the gun from, and the items that he had said that he took were never found. 

One schoolboy at a Paris lycee, René Secrétan, is believed to have actually shot Van Gogh. René was known to be a bully, attempting the violent behaviors of his favorite wild west show. He had met Van Gogh, making fun of him to his friends. René later admitted that he owned the gun, but denied having killed Van Gogh. 

One account adds further proof that the boys killed Van Gogh as an accident. A woman from an affluent family in the town at the time revealed the she witnessed the event, and said that Van Gogh was walking in the street when the two boys shot him, and he said he was in the field to prevent them from getting in trouble. 

While we may never know the true reason for Van Gogh’s death, the mystery provides a final, ominous note to his life.