Julian Schnabel’s new film on Van Gogh, which premiered in Venice earlier this week, may be artistic—but it pushes beyond the boundaries of truth. The New York-based artist and filmmaker suggests in At Eternity’s Gate that the Dutchman was shot by a local teenager and that 65 sketches which surfaced two years ago are authentic. Both points are simply wrong.

Murder or suicide?

The argument that Van Gogh was shot by René Secrétan, a 16-year-old boy, was first put forward in a 2011 biography by two American writers, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. Although the 953-page work is meticulously researched and adds considerably to our knowledge, their appendix on “A Note on Vincent’s Fatal Wounding” created sensationalist headlines. Not specifying whether it was murder or manslaughter, the authors argue that it was Secrétan who fired the shot in Auvers-sur-Oise on 27 July 1890, which killed the artist two days later.

The most detailed refutation of the Naifeh/Smith theory is an article by two respected specialists at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp, published in the Burlington Magazine in July 2013. They forensically analyse the evidence, examining the relations between Vincent and his brother Theo in the artist’s final weeks and the letter found on his body. Their conclusion is that it was suicide, as has always been assumed. Read more