In their 2011 biography Van Gogh: The Life, authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith presented the theory that Vincent Van Gogh did not commit suicide, but instead was shot to death. The idea would drastically change an important part of art history, so naturally some people were less than thrilled with the claim. In a recent article in Vanity Fair, Naifeh and White Smith wrote about the topic again, but this time they had forensic expert Dr. Vincent Di Maio on hand to support their evidence, a key witness in the George Zimmerman trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

According to Di Maio, the shooting angle as shown in the forensics reports doesn't make sense. "It would be extremely difficult to shoot oneself in this location [i.e., on the left side] with the left hand. The easiest way would involve putting one’s fingers around the back of the grip and using the thumb to fire the gun. One might grasp the gun with the right hand to steady it…Using one’s right hand is even more absurd."

He added that Van Gogh would have had powder burns on his hands, and "there would have been soot, powder tattooing and searing of the skin around the entrance. None of this is described. This indicates the muzzle was more than a foot or two away...It is my opinion that, in all medical probability, the wound incurred by Van Gogh was not self-inflicted. In other words, he did not shoot himself."

History will probably still go with the suicide story unless there is indisputable evidence that says otherwise (like a letter of confession by the killer with a fingerprint and photo ID inside a sealed and dated time capsule). The authors write that a curator at the Van Gogh Museum once wrote to them in an email that "the biggest problem you’ll find after publishing your theory is that the suicide is more or less printed in the brains of past and present generations and has become a sort of self-evident truth. Vincent’s suicide has become the grand finale of the story of the martyr for art, it’s his crown of thorns."

[via ArtNet]