The Gun That Vincent van Gogh Is Believed to Have Used to Kill Himself Just Sold for $182,000 at Auction

The more than 100-year-old weapon doubled its estimate at a Paris auction today.

The gun believed to be used by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) to shoot himself in Auvers-sur-Oise. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
The gun believed to be used by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh to shoot himself in Auvers-sur-Oise. Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images.

A rather morbid bidding war broke out today for the rusted-out gun that Vincent van Gogh allegedly used to kill himself. The Paris company AuctionArt–Rémy Le Fur sold the firearm for €162,500 ($182,700), double the high estimate of €40,000 to €60,000 ($44,800–$67,000). The record for a single firearm sold at auction is $1.8 million.

A volley of 18 bids kept the packed saleroom’s attention before the gun reached its final price. “The result reflects the enthusiasm this legendary gun generated all across the globe and illustrates the myth surrounding the painter,” said Grégoire Veyrès, who oversaw the auction, in a statement.

Van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in the South of France, in 1890. He lived in room number five of Arthur Ravoux’s inn there, and turned out a painting a day on average, despite his increasingly unstable mental state.

The weapon. ©Stéphane Briolant, courtesy of AuctionArt – Rémy Le Fur.

The weapon. ©Stéphane Briolant, courtesy of AuctionArt – Rémy Le Fur.

There are numerous theories about the artist’s death, including that he was murdered. According to the auction house’s version, Van Gogh went to a field in the village one Sunday and shot himself in the chest. He lost consciousness and, after waking up, managed to return to the Ravoux inn, despite sustaining serious injuries. He died two days later.

The gun offered at the sale was found in the field in question by a farmer around 1960, and was handed to the current consignor’s mother. The auction house claims there are several factors that point to it being the gun in question: it was discovered in the location where Van Gogh was shot; the 7mm caliber matches that of the bullet retrieved from Van Gogh’s body, and scientific studies suggest that the gun had been on the ground since the 1890s. It is also a low power gun, which might explain why the artist didn’t die immediately.

The weapon. ©Stéphane Briolant, courtesy of AuctionArt – Rémy Le Fur.

The weapon. ©Stéphane Briolant, courtesy of AuctionArt – Rémy Le Fur.

In 2011, another theory about the artist’s death emerged, when two American researchers claimed that Van Gogh didn’t actually kill himself, but was instead the victim of an accident. They theorized that two young boys playing with a gun accidentally pressed the trigger and wounded Van Gogh by mistake. According to the auction house, even if that scenario is what actually happened, the gun could still be the weapon responsible for his death.

In 2016, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam exhibited the gun as part of the show “On the Verge of Insanity, Van Gogh and His Illness.”


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