Van Gogh’s gun fetches $182,000, revives debate on his death

The rusty 7mm handgun that Dutch painter Van Gogh is believed to have killed himself with was sold for $182,000 at an auction in Paris on Wednesday, nearly three times the estimate, reports say.

Described as “the most famous weapon in art history”, the Lefaucheux revolver was bought by an unnamed private collector with a telephone bid.

Even as the auction revived the debate on who pulled the trigger that killed Van Gogh, AuctionArt said it could not be said with certainty that the gun they sold to the private collector was the same that ended the artist’s life in 1890.

However, certain facts indicate that it could be the same gun that killed the celebrated painter, according to AuctionArt.

The weather-worn gun was recovered by a farm worker in 1965 from a field where Van Gogh took his own life.

The calibre of the gun auctioned was the same as the bullet retrieved from Van Gogh’s chest.

Scientific analysis showed that the gun had been lying in the field near Auvers-sur-Oise village in Parisian suburb since 1890.

The farm worker, who found the revolver, gave it to the family of the innkeeper from whom Van Gogh had borrowed it.

A day before the auction, the Van Gogh Institute questioned the auction house for its lack of sensitivity.

The institute, which looks after the Auvers-sur-Oise village inn where the artist spent his last days, said the auction house was making commercial gains from a tragedy by selling a morbid treasure.

Most historians believe the depressed painter borrowed the gun from the innkeeper on 27 July 1890 before walking into the nearby field where he used to spend his evenings.

He staggered back to the inn at night with a bullet in his chest and died two days later.

But a 2011 biography on Van Gogh says the painter was shot accidentally by 16-year-old local boy René Secrétan who was playing with the handgun in the field along with his younger brother.

To save the boys, Van Gogh kept quiet and the world woke up on July 29 to the shocking news of his “suicide”.

A new biopic on Van Gogh titled At Eternity’s Gate adds credence to the theory that a stray bullet during the scuffle between the two boys killed the painter.   

The film’s director Julian Schnabel and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere say Van Gogh was not at all depressed. He was very active and produced more than 70 works in 80 days. Some of his best works including the one portraying the village doctor who tried to save his life were created during his final days.