Vincent van Gogh died on July 29, 1890, from an apparent gunshot wound to the belly sustained approximately 30 hours earlier on July 27. Although little is known how Vincent sustained his mortal wound, art historians have long believed that the death was the result of a suicide, a widely accepted “truth” for the mysterious death of the then unknown and now iconic artist. The basis and validity of this suicide narrative is still very hotly debated among van Gogh scholars to this day. We dug deeper into all the circumstantial evidence and testimonies to arrive at a comprehensive overview of the probability that it was likely impossible for Vincent to self-inflict his mortal wound.
We used all the available circumstantial evidence related to the day Vincent van Gogh was wounded to present the information and conclusions as if we were before a judge as expert witnesses to answer the question: suicide or murder? If Vincent did not shoot himself in the belly (a red flag in and of itself), whoever inflicted that penetrating wound into his abdomen murdered him. In our study, results from firing the same model revolver that allegedly killed Vincent from various ranges (direct contact, intermediate, and distant) demonstrated within a reasonable degree of medical probability (greater than 50%) that it was not probable for Vincent van Gogh to shoot himself without a described powder burn.
With little forensic evidence to rely on 130 years after the suspicious event, many have suggested a respectful exhumation and graveside autopsy utilizing 21st century techniques to bring resolve to this 19th century cold case. This crime, whether suicide or murder, has generated renewed interest and numerous questions surrounding the suspicious death of the most iconic artist of the 19th century. These missing forensic facts will remain buried with all the secrets Vincent took with him to his grave, unless a definitive autopsy is performed. What an autopsy could add to our forensic fact basis and understanding of this intriguing cold case is enormous and further delineated as the next step to answer these difficult, otherwise unanswerable questions and allow us to finally sign off on his death certificate with certainty.
It is clearly impossible to definitively prove suicide or murder, but it is also impossible to disprove murder given the data and arguments offered in this analysis. A physician's opinion is based on the material available to him, and in this case, “our opinion as to the cause and manner of death is based on the limited amount of forensic information available. It is, therefore, our opinion, based on that limited information that in all medical probability, the cause of death is not a self-inflicted wound by Vincent van Gogh, and, thus, in all medical probability, a homicide.”