By Agence France-Presse
The revolver with which Vincent van Gogh is believed to have shot himself is to go under the hammer tomorrow at a Paris auction house.
Billed as “the most famous weapon in the history of art”, the 7mm-calibre Lefaucheux revolver is expected to fetch up to 60,000 euros (Bt2.1 million).
Van Gogh experts say that he shot himself with the revolver near the village of Auvers-sur-Oise north of Paris, where he spent the last few months of his life in 1890.
Discovered by a farmer in 1965 in the same field where the troubled Dutch painter is thought to have fatally wounded himself, the gun has already been exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
While Art Auction, who are selling the gun, say there is no way of being absolutely certain that it is the fatal weapon, tests showed it had been in the ground for 75 years, which would fit.
The Dutch artist had borrowed the gun from the owner of the inn in the village where he was staying.
He died 36 hours later after staggering wounded back to the inn in the dark.
It was not his first dramatic act of self-harm. Two years earlier in 1888, he cut off his ear before offering it to a woman in a brothel in Arles in the south of France.
While most art historians agree that Van Gogh killed himself, that assumption has been questioned in recent years, with some researchers claiming that the fatal shot may have been fired accidentally by two local boys playing with the weapon in the field.
‘No proof’ of suicide
That theory won fresh support from a new biopic of the artist starring Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”.
Its director, the renowned American painter Julian Schnabel, says that Van Gogh had painted 75 canvasses in his 80 days at Auvers-sur-Oise and was unlikely to be suicidal.
The legendary French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere – who co-wrote the script with Schnabel – insisted that there “is absolutely no proof he killed himself.
“Do I believe that Van Gogh killed himself? Absolutely not!” he declared when the film was premiered at the Venice film festival last September.
He said Van Gogh painted some of his best work in his final days, including his “Portrait of Dr Gachet”, the local doctor who later tried to save his life.
It set a world record when it sold for $82.5 million (Bt2.58 billion) in 1990.
The bullet Dr Gachet extracted from Van Gogh’s chest was the same calibre as the one used by the Lefaucheux revolver.
‘He was not at all sad’
“Van Gogh was working constantly. Every day he made a new work. He was not at all sad,” Carriere argued.
In the film the gun goes off after the two young boys, who were brothers, got into a struggle with the bohemian stranger.
Auction Art state that the farmer who found the gun in 1965 gave it to the owners of the inn at Auvers-sur-Oise, whose family are now selling it.
“Technical tests on the weapon have shown the weapon was used and indicate that it stayed in the ground for a period that would coincide with 1890,” it says.
“All these clues give credence to the theory that this is the weapon used in the suicide.”
That did not exclude, the auction house adds, that the gun could also have been hidden or abandoned by the two young brothers in the field.
The auction comes as crowds are flocking to an immersive Van Gogh exhibition in the French capital which allows “the audience to enter his landscapes” through projections on the gallery’s walls, ceilings and floors. “Van Gogh, Starry Night” runs at the Atelier des Lumieres until December.
As the revolver with which Vincent van Gogh is believed to have shot himself goes under the hammer tomorrow, here are five things to know about the acclaimed artist.
Vincent van Gogh: five bullet points
l France: most creative period
Born to a middle-class Dutch family in 1853, Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886, joining his brother Theo who ran an art gallery in Montmartre.
He spent the most prolific years of his career in France, inspired by his friends Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard, and meetings with Impressionists Georges Seurat, Camille Pissaro and Paul Signac.
Attracted by the bright light of Provence in southern France, he moved to the small town of Arles in 1888. His Post-Impressionist friend Paul Gauguin stayed with him in his “Yellow House” for several months.
After a year in a mental asylum, Van Gogh passed the last months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris. There he was under the care of doctor and amateur painter Paul Gauchet, the subject of a famous 1890 portrait.
l Vivid colours
Hugely inspired by the works of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists but not respecting their rules, Van Gogh developed a unique style. As a young man, he studied Dutch painting and admired English engraving and Japanese woodcuts, which he collected with his brother. His fascination with Japan can be seen in his splashes of vivid colours and use of black, which was avoided by pure Impressionists. He applied the colours with energetic brush strokes, with paint often undiluted on the palette.
l Mental illness
In 1888, after a fierce argument with Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off part of an ear in a fit of madness, offering it to a prostitute as a gift.
He was admitted to a mental asylum in Saint-Remy-en-Provence where he convalesced for a year. He produced some of his biggest masterpieces during this period of intense creativity, characterised by swirling and spiralling motifs, like “The Starry Night” (1889).
He left the asylum in May 1890. Several months later he shot himself with a revolver in Auvers, dying two days afterwards on July 29, 1890, aged 37.
l Posthumous recognition
Supported financially during his life by his brother, to whom he regularly sent canvases, Van Gogh enjoyed only moderate recognition in his last years.
He sold only one painting during his lifetime, “The Red Vineyard at Arles” (1888).
His brother’s widow Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, who organised several exhibitions, played a key role in his posthumous recognition which accelerated between the two World Wars.
In 1930 an exhibition of his work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art was visited by 120,000 people.
Today on show in the world’s biggest museums, his brilliant artistic career and personality have created a mythical figure that continues to inspire and has been the subject of films, songs and cartoons.
l Rare at auction
Van Gogh is one of the most expensive Impressionist and modern artists, with 12 of his works having gone for more than $30 million at auction. In 2017 “Laboureur dans un champ” (1889) went under the hammer for $81.3 million.
His output of about 2,000 pieces, of which 900 are paintings, are mainly held in museum collections, which means they are a rarity on the art market.
“There are no more than two or three auctions of Van Gogh works in the world each year,” the French auction house Artcurial said in Paris in 2018, when presenting one the works from his youth. – AFP