A debut work of historical investigation argues that the famous painter of The Starry Night was murdered.
Most historians believe that the clinically depressed Vincent van Gogh died in 1890 of wounds he had sustained when he shot himself in the abdomen with a revolver. Physician and amateur sleuth Arenberg feels differently. The great artist, the author argues, was the victim of a murder and coverup so devious that they have gone largely unsuspected for well over a century. “This intriguing and epic cold case of the death of Vincent van Gogh involves multiple theories and scenarios of what happened on July 27, 1890,” writes Arenberg. “With almost no agreed-upon facts, it remains one of the most enduring legends and enigmatic unsolved mysteries of art history.” Using modern forensic analysis, documents from van Gogh and his associates, and the most recent theories of experts, the author meticulously examines the case for suicide and accident, attempting to show the ways in which the record has been misinformed, misinterpreted, or ignored. He then chases down the various suspects that might have been involved, landing finally on those who he believes actually killed the man, offering their reasons for doing so and the ways in which they were able to keep the truth from the public. Arenberg’s prose is exact and excited, making it clear just how much fun he has had trying to solve the puzzle. “She was there and saw and heard everything!” he writes, defending the credibility of Adeline Ravoux, the subject of one of van Gogh’s paintings. “She has no obvious or nefarious agenda.” As with many conspiracy-minded books, this one sometimes gets lost in the weeds, slowing momentum and diffusing tension. The audience will likely think a tighter, less shaggy work would have been a better read. Even so, there is much to be learned about the artist’s milieu and his final days, and the author enjoyably transforms some of the famous faces in van Gogh’s portraits into whodunit suspects. Fans of the revisionist theory genre should enjoy this earnest work in which the pleasure lies not in the truth but in the uncertainty.
While not completely persuasive, this alternative theory on van Gogh’s death manages to provoke doubt as to what actually happened.