Any shmoe with a spare $25-$100 million dollars can land themselves an original Vincent Van Gogh painting, but this June, only one lucky bidder can go home with a singular piece of art history: the gun that was allegedly used by the eccentric painter to kill himself. As reported by the Associated Press, a 7mm pocket revolver found in a field in the northern French village of Auvers-sur-Oise — where Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself in the chest on July 27, 1890 — will go up for auction in Paris at the Drouot auction center, on June 19.
“The gun offered in this sale was found in this field by a farmer around 1960 and was handed to the current owner’s mother,” said the auction website. “Writer Alain Rohan investigated this case and wrote the book Did we find the suicide weapon? in 2012. Several pieces of evidence show it must be Van Gogh’s suicide gun: it was discovered where Van Gogh shot it; its caliber (7 mm) is the same as the bullet retrieved from the artist’s body as described by the doctor at the time; scientific studies demonstrate that the gun had stayed in the ground since the 1890s and finally, it is a low power gun so it could explain why Van Gogh didn’t instantly die after shooting it.”
The painter died two days later of his apparently self-inflicted injuries — although another recent theory is that Van Gogh did not inflict this wound himself.
“Another theory about Van Gogh’s death appeared in 2011,” says the Drouot website, referencing a controversial biography, Van Gogh: The Life, by authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, which makes several dramatic revisionist claims, based on 10 years of study with more than 20 translators and researchers. “According to [two] American researchers, the artist didn’t kill himself. He would have been the victim of an accident. [Two] young boys were playing with a gun next to him when one of them pressed the trigger by mistake and wounded him. However, even if this assumption is right, the weapon could still be the one that killed Van Gogh. The gun would have been left in the field.”
Either way, the gun was included in a 2016 exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and his Illness, which deals with multiple aspects of the painter’s notoriously troubled mental health, and is expected to fetch €40,000–60,000 (~$45,000–67,000) at auction. It certainly represents a unique offering for obsessive Van Gogh fans, gun collectors, and historical true crime enthusiasts.