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Alleged gun that killed Van Gogh

The Death of Vincent van Gogh

by VanGoghology

The Death of Vincent van Gogh

These are the accounts of Adeline Ravoux. Continued from

That Sunday he went out immediately after breakfast, which was unusual. At dusk he had not returned, which surprised us very much, for he was extremely correct in his relationship with us, he always kept regular meal hours. We were then all sitting out on the café terrace, for on Sunday the hustle was more tiring than on weekdays. When we saw Vincent arrive night had fallen, it must have been about nine o’clock. Vincent walked bent, holding his stomach, again exaggerating his habit of holding one shoulder higher than the other. Mother asked him: “M. Vincent, we were anxious, we are happy to see you to return; have you had a problem?”

He replied in a suffering voice: “No, but I have…”

he did not finish, crossed the hall, took the staircase and climbed to his bedroom. I was witness to this scene. Vincent made such a strange impression on us that Father got up and went to the staircase to see if he could hear anything.

He thought he could hear groans, went up quickly and found Vincent on his bed, laid down in a crooked position, knees up to the chin, moaning loudly: “What’s the matter,” said Father, “are you ill?” Vincent then lifted his shirt and showed him a small wound in the region of the heart. Father cried: “Malheureaux, (poor fellow) what have you done?”

“I have tried to kill myself,” replied Van Gogh.

These words are precise, our father retold them many times to my sister and I, because for our family the tragic death of Vincent Van Gogh has remained one of the most prominent events of our life. In his old age, Father became blind and gladly aired his memories, and the suicide of Vincent was the one that he told the most often and with great precision.

In parenthesis here, I want to clear up any doubt about the fidelity of Father’s memory, which was prodigious. He sometimes told clients of our cafe his memories of the war of 1870. This was bought to the knowledge of a chronicler of the Petit Parisien, a specialist in historical questions – he was called M. Saint -Yves, I believe – and the former verified Father’s accounts; all the details that he gave were confirmed: he was never caught out with an error from his lips.

The value of Father’s testimony being thus well established, I continue the account of his memories on the death of the great painter. I must confess that the manner in which some biographers have spoken to me of Father has shocked me. Father was not a vulgar man. His reputation of honesty was proverbial: he was not called “Father Ravoux” for nothing. He commanded respect.

I continue therefore the account of the confidences that Vincent Van Gogh made to Father in the course of the night of Sunday to Monday that he spent with him.

Van Gogh Cemetery

Vincent had gone to the wheat field where he had painted previously,

it was situated behind the Auvers chateau, and then belonged to Mr. Gosselin who resided in Paris, rue de Messine. The chateau was more than a half – kilometer from our house. It was reached by going up a steep hill, shaded by great trees. We do not know how far he got from the chateau. In the course of the afternoon, on the road that passes under the chateau wall – so my father understood – Vincent shot himself with a revolver and fainted. The freshness of the evening revived him. On all fours he sought the revolver to finish himself off but could not find it (and it was not found the following day). Then Vincent gave up looking and came down the hill to regain our house.

I never, obviously, assisted at the agony of Van Gogh, but I was witness to most of what happened, which I am going to relate now.

After seeing his injury in the region of the heart, Father descended rapidly from the bedroom where Vincent groaned, and he asked Tom Hirschig to go in search of a physician. In Auvers there was a physician from Pontoise who had a pied-a-terre where he gave consultations. This physician was absent. Father sent then Tom to Dr. Gachet who resided in the upper part of the town but did not practice in Auvers.

 

Invitation to Vincent van Gogh's FuneralWhat was Dr. Gachet’s connection with Van Gogh? Father ignored him completely, the physician had never come to the house, and the scene in which my father assisted did not to make him suppose any existed, in fact on the contrary.

After the physician’s visit, Father told us: “Dr. Gachet has examined Mr. Vincent and has dressed his wound with bandages that he had himself brought “(someone had warned him that it concerned a casualty). He judged the case hopeless and left immediately. I am absolutely certain that he did not return neither that evening, nor the following day. Father told us again: “During the examination and when he was bandaging the wound, Dr. Gachet did not say a word to M. Vincent.”

After escorting the physician home, Father went up to M. Vincent and he stayed all night. Tom Hirschig remained near him.

Before the arrival of the physician, Vincent had requested his pipe and Father had lit it. He resumed smoking after the departure of the doctor and smoked thus a part of the night. He appeared to suffer a lot and often moaned. He asked Father to put his ear to his chest to see if he could hear the gurgling of the internal hemorrhage. He remained silent almost all the night, sometimes dozing.

In the morning of the following day, two gendarmes of the Méry brigade, alerted by a public rumor probably, appeared at the house. One of them, called Rigaumon, questioned Father in an unpleasant tone: “It is here that there has been a suicide?” Father, after begging him to soften his manners, invited him to climb up to the bedridden. He preceded the gendarme into the bedroom, explaining to Vincent that in this case that the gendarmes were here as French law prescribed an inquiry. The gendarme then entered the room, and Rigaumon, always in the same tone, questioned Vincent: “Are you the one who wanted to commit suicide?”

Yes, I believe, replied Vincent in his usual soft tone.

You know that you do not have the right?

Van Gogh on his deathbed Paul Gachet

Sketches by Paul Van Ryssel (Dr. Gachet)

Credit: Bibliothèque nationale de France

Always in the same even tone Van Gogh replied: “Gendarme, my body is mine and I am free to do what I want with it. Do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to commit suicide.” Father then asked the gendarme, a bit sharply, not to insist any more.

Since dawn, Father had been preoccupied with how to tell Theo, the brother of Vincent. The casualty then being lethargic could not give precise information. (He had had a burst of energy during the gendarme’s visit that had tired him a lot.) But, knowing that Vincent’s brother was a salesman at the Art Gallery of Boussod Valadon, boulevard Montmartre, in Paris, Father sent a telegram to this address when the post office opened.

Theo arrived by train in the middle of the afternoon. I remember seeing him arrive, running. The station was close enough to us. He was a man a little smaller than Vincent, thin, an agreeable physiognomy and he appeared very nice. But his face was marked by sorrow. He immediately climbed up to his brother who he kissed and spoke to him in their native language. Father withdrew and did not help them. He did not go back in during the night. After the emotion that he had felt on seeing his brother, Vincent had fallen into a coma. Theo and my father kept watch on the casualty until his death, which occurred at one o’clock in the morning.

It was Father who, with Theo, in the morning made the declaration of the death to the town hall.

The house was in mourning, as if for the death of one of our own. The door of the cafe remained open, but the shutters were closed in front. In the afternoon, after the bier was set out, the body was brought down to ” the painter’s room”.

Tom had gone to pick greenery to decorate the room, and Theo had had placed all around canvases that Vincent had left there: The church of Auvers, Irises, The Garden of Daubigny, The child with an orange, etc. At the foot of the coffin his palette and brushes were laid out. Our neighbor, Mr. Levert, the carpenter, had lent the trestles. The child of this latter, two years old, had been painted by Van Gogh in the painting The child with an orange.

It was also Mr. Levert who made the coffin.

Les Nouvelles littéraires has published a photograph of our house in Auvers where one can see Father, my sister Germaine, the Levert child and myself.

The interment took place two days later after the death, in the afternoon. About twenty artists followed the body to the village cemetery. Father was there as well as Tom and Martinez and neighbors who, each day, saw M. Vincent when he went to paint.

On the return, Theo, Tom, Dr.Gachet and the latter’s son, Paul, who may have then been sixteen, accompanied Father. They entered “the painters room ” where the coffin left from and where the canvases were on display. Theo, wanting to thank those that had helped his brother, offered them to take, in memory, some canvases of the departed artist. Father was content with my portrait and the Town Hall of Auvers that M. Vincent had given him when he was alive. When the proposal was made to Dr.Gachet, the former chose many canvases and passed them to his son Paul: “Roulez Coco”, telling him to make a parcel. Then Theo took my sister Germaine to choose a toy: this was a basket of intertwined shavings containing a small iron kitchen utensil. Finally, Theo took his brother’s belongings. We never saw him again.

Later, we learnt that he had fallen gravely ill almost immediately after the suicide of his brother and that he was dead some months after. His body was returned to Auvers where it is interred next to his brother. What were the motives for the suicide of Vincent?

Here is what Father thought: Theo had a little boy and Vincent adored his nephew. He feared that his married brother, having further expenses, could no longer finance him as he had up to then. This is the motive that Theo expressed to Father and he told him that the last letter written by Vincent was in this sense. It has been published as No. 652 in the series of Letters of Vincent to Theo; has it been published in its entirety? The motive of the suicide is not discernable in the letter.

On this confidence on Vincent’s embarrassment of money, made by Theo to Father, one finds no trace in the letters, which tends to make me think that there are gaps in the publication of these letters. Does the correspondence of Vincent Van Gogh pose problems that someone wanted to avoid?

His setbacks in love or the little success of his painting, of his life, we knew nothing, and we would have certainly ignored his financial difficulties if Theo had spoken to Father when they took care of Vincent, because the former paid his rent regularly.

I have finished my account. I would like it to be published fully and without anyone modifying the text. I have lately been interviewed by journalists who have reported my words with more or less fidelity, or have mixed my declarations with their personal ideas, sometimes disagreeable, even going as far as to distort what I had told them, or have used my memoirs for purposes that, if I had known, would have made me decline the interview.

I am without doubt the last surviving person who personally knew Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers, and certainly the last living witness of his final days.

It appears to me therefore that my testimony, of which all literary preoccupation is excluded, has an essential value for the history of the life of Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers, and should not to be confused with fantasies that, over the years, have been spread, one does not know who by, neither to what goal. I add that my testimony can not be exploited in such a manner when writing the history of the life of Vincent, in Auvers, it is given under the condition to fully respect the content. It is possible that these true eyewitness memories go against certain now accepted legends.

But these – (and later authors who referred to their words) – who have written the history of the life of Vincent Van Gogh have to admit that it is only in 1953, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of the great artist, of whom the press is preoccupied, have they discovered she who was named The Lady in blue. Thus, for sixty – three years, no retelling by a witness of his life of her memories of the life of Vincent at Auvers-sur-Oise had been researched. They have therefore built, on disputable foundations, a legend of the life of Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise.

In conscience, I have told what I have seen, then told what I have heard from my father who, alone near Vincent, spent the tragic night of 27 July 1890. I would like to remain persuaded that my account is a document that is useful to preserve, and which will serve as a reference when someone wants to write the truthful history of the stay of Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise. ~ Adeline Carrie-Ravoux

 

Land concession in the cemetery (Front page).

Having regard to the request submitted by Mr. Theodore van Gogh,

The aforementioned request for a concession of two square meters of land in the cemetery of the said commune of Auvers-sur-Oise, to establish for fifteen years the private grave of Mr. Van Gogh, Vincent Willem, was decided in this municipality.

The said claimant undertakes to pay immediately, namely:

1. To the commune of Auvers-sur-Oise, as the main price of this concession, the sum of Twenty Francs.

2. At the Charity Office, the sum of Ten Francs.

Family grave no. 293 in the cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise vvg
Grave no. 293 at the cemetery

Although we now visit the gravesite of the two brothers lovingly adjacent, Vincent’s initial burial site is thought to be in the northwest quadrant of the cemetery—while Theo was originally buried in Utrecht.

A student of Dr. Gachet, known for replicating Vincent’s artworks for study, sketched a picture of the initial grave, which depicted the existence of two large thujas and a yucca. These plants started out as cuttings from Gachet’s garden.

Vincent's painting of Dr. Gachet's garden showing the same types of plants that surrounded his original grave.

Vincent’s painting of Dr. Gachet’s garden showing the same types of plants that surrounded his original grave.

In 1905, Dr. Gachet, along with his son, and Jo van Gogh-Bonger undertook the formidable task of coordinating the exhumation of Vincent’s body, which was then relocated to its present site subsequent to the expiration of the original two square meters of land. Theo joined him in 1914, but he died only six months after Vincent. More about that can be found here.

Letter from Émile Bernard to Albert Aurier…

On July 31, 1890, Vincent’s good friend Émile Bernard had written a detailed letter to French poet and art critic Albert Aurier informing him of Vincent’s death. Earlier that year, Aurier had published the article “Les isolés” (The Isolated Ones) in the Mercure de France, expressing his profound admiration for Vincent. 

Aurier, who met Vincent at Theo and Jo’s a few weeks before his alleged suicide, was to write a “history of Vincent” after learning of his passing, sadly he too died shortly thereafter.

Emile’s letter was published in art-documents in February 1953 and subsequent newspapers, such as the popular Algemeen Handelsblad in Amsterdam, titled “The burial of Vincent of Gogh in the midst of the fields of Auvers.” You can read it here.

Theo received dozens of letters of condolences after his brother’s death, this is Gauguin’s:

My dear Van Gogh, 

We have just received your sad news which greatly distresses us.

 

In these circumstances, I don’t want to write the usual phrases of condolence – you know that for me he was a sincere friend; and that he was an artist a rare thing in our epoch. You will continue to see him in his works. As Vincent
used often to say – Stone will perish, the word will remain. As for me, I shall see him with my eyes and with my heart in his works.”

 

Cordially, ever yours
P Gauguin

Grave of Theo van Gogh in Utrecht
Theo's original grave in Utrecht

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