“Everyone wants to get on the Van Gogh boat. There’s no trip that’s so horrible that someone won’t take it,” in the words of Basquiat writer/director Julian Schnabel.
Ignore the next Van Gogh and “you might be staring at Van Gogh’s ear,” he added.
The extent of ear removed by Van Gogh has already been disputed, but it was enough for Paul Gauguin to carry him to the Auvers hospital in critical condition. That story must end there. It raises more questions that are even more scandalous.
“Van Gogh: The Life” is 900 pages of even tiny details, but near the end the bombshell hits. Authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith say the painter was accidentally shot with a faulty gun by two teens he knew.
As the story goes, and it seems consistent with the life that preceded it, Van Gogh helped cover up what happened. He wanted to die, despite being at the apogee of his painting life, because of his declining health and the burden he placed on brother Theo.
Although some reports have the curator of the Van Gogh Museum damning the reports, Leo Jansen’s statement merely said many questions remain unanswered and it would be “premature to rule out suicide.”
And it is not the first time such a claim has been made. The late art historian John Rewald, who visited Auvers in the late 1930s came to the same conclusion after talking to villagers about the “fou roux” or red-headed mad man.
“These two boys, one of whom was wearing a cowboy outfit and had a malfunctioning gun, you have a boy who likes to play cowboy, you have three people probably all of whom had too much to drink,” the BBC quotes Rewand as writing. The bullet to the stomach took more than a day to kill the painter in 1890 at the age of 37.
By this time Van Gogh was in his absinthe days, an anise-flavored drink called 'The Green Fairy" that gained a reputation for exaggerated hallucinogenic powers.
One thing is for certain. His 2,000 art works, done while fitting in other temporary day jobs, including a pastor serving pathetically poor miners, stand for themselves.
In one of the last of his hundreds of letters to brother Theo, who followed him in death by only a few months, "I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness."