July 27th, 1890 – Van Gogh Shoots Himself

Today-In-History

On July 27th, 1890, aged 37, Vincent Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself in the chest with a revolver (although no gun was ever found). There were no witnesses and the location where he shot himself is unclear.

Van Gogh 680

Ingo Walther writes, “Some think Van Gogh shot himself in the wheat field that had engaged his attention as an artist of late; others think he did it at a barn near the inn.” Biographer David Sweetman writes that the bullet was deflected by a rib bone and passed through his chest without doing apparent damage to internal organs—probably stopped by his spine. He was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended by two physicians. However, without a surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. After tending to him as best they could, the two physicians left him alone in his room, smoking his pipe. The following morning (Monday), Theo rushed to be with his brother as soon as he was notified, and found him in surprisingly good shape, but within hours Vincent began to fail due to an untreated infection caused by the wound. Van Gogh died in the evening, 29 hours after he supposedly shot himself. According to Theo, his brother’s last words were: “The sadness will last forever.”

Van Gogh was buried on July 30th in the municipal cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise. The funeral was attended by Theo van Gogh, Andries Bonger, Charles Laval, Lucien Pissarro, Émile Bernard, Julien Tanguy and Dr. Gachet amongst some 20 family and friends, as well as some locals. The funeral was described by Émile Bernard in a letter to Albert Aurier. Theo suffered from syphilis and his health declined rapidly after Vincent’s death. Weak and unable to come to terms with Vincent’s absence, he died six months later, on January 25th, at Den Dolder, and he was buried in Utrecht. In 1914, the year she had Van Gogh’s letters published, Jo Bonger had Theo’s body exhumed, moved from Utrecht and re-buried with Vincent at Auvers-sur-Oise.

While many of Van Gogh’s late paintings are somber, they are essentially optimistic and reflect his desire to return to lucid mental health right up to the time of his death. Yet some of his final works reflect his deepening concerns. Referring to his paintings of wheatfields under troubled skies, he commented in a letter to his brother Theo: “I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness.” Nevertheless, he adds in the same paragraph: “these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside.”

There has been much debate over the years as to the source of Van Gogh’s illness and its effect on his work. Over 150 psychiatrists have attempted to label its root, with some 30 different diagnoses. Diagnoses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, poisoning from swallowed paints, temporal lobe epilepsy, and acute intermittent porphyria. Any of these could have been the culprit, and could have been aggravated by malnutrition, overwork, insomnia, and consumption of alcohol, especially absinthe.


Many fans of Doctor Who cherish the episode “Vincent” in which Van Gogh is the central character . . . especially its powerful ending.


 

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