A new biography, Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, suggests Vincent did not commit suicide, but was shot by a perky local of 16 named René Secrétan, who was wearing a cowboy costume. The bullet’s trajectory showed the shot could not have been self-inflicted and had to have been fired from afar.
But if this is true, why did Vincent protect his assassin? The bully had been tormenting him for months by putting salt in his coffee and setting up fake dates with farm girls. You would have thought he would want some revenge.
Vincent was a Christian. Thus forgiveness should have been part of his character. Maybe that explains it. Or, and this is now the preferred interpretation, he committed suicide-by-hooligan, the way those too afraid to off themselves sometimes taunt the police into doing the job.
I have a better theory. Vincent had been having his way with René; and the lad, clearly not the brightest bulb, decided to defend his honor. From afar. The cowboy suit made me suspicious from the beginning. Even in the 19th century a cowboy costume on a 16 year-old was not the mark of maturity. He should have been knocking up farmers’ daughters or planting potatoes, not playing cowboys and Indians or whatever he was doing. Maybe he was dressing up for the artist.
Michiko Kakutani, in her N.Y. Times Book Review, is on the suicide side:
The deeply unhappy van Gogh, the authors argue not altogether convincingly, “welcomed death,” and Secrétan may have provided him “the escape that he longed for but was unable or unwilling to bring upon himself, after a lifetime spent disavowing suicide as ‘moral cowardice.’”……. There is no hard evidence for this theory, and it is laid out, discreetly, in an appendix to this biography. – via | artsjournal.com