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Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

I’ve always loved Vincent Van Gogh – his thick, lush brush strokes, his sunflowers, his Starry Night. The stories of his madness and torment, his cutting off his own ear in passion and sorrow – even Don McLean’s song “Starry, Starry Night” about him. His story is beautiful and tragic, and always resonated with me.

And apparently, much of it is untrue. At least that’s the case according to a new biography of Vincent Van Gogh, called Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, which, after much investigation (and surely some supposition) postulates that Van Gogh did not, in fact commit suicide, but rather died of an accidental shooting at the hands of two boys he knew, and recognizing the truth would ruin their lives, covered up the actual occurrence.

Naifeh and Smith, who have collaborated on many books before from a biography of Jackson Pollock, to an investigation of a Mormon-related pipe bomb murder in Utah, to a personal account of Smith’s own experience surviving an inoperable brain tumor.

For Van Gogh, their latest project, the two immersed themselves in the life, mind and documents of Van Gogh, poring over letters for hours and hours a day, reading countless books (including those they knew Van Gogh to have read himself), and researching every possible aspect of the Dutch painter’s life. The book has been praised for its depth and thoroughness by critics in the know, including the curators of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum, and the Royal Academy show Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters.

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