Revolver believed to have been used by Vincent van Gogh sells for $182,000 at auction

/ cbs/AFP

Recreating Van Gogh's vision in "At Eternity's Gate"

The revolver with which Vincent van Gogh is believed to have shot himself sold for 162,500 euros ($182,000) at a Paris auction on Wednesday — nearly three times the estimate. Billed as "the most famous weapon in the history of art," the rusty 7 mm Lefaucheux revolver was bought by a private collector with a telephone bid.

The troubled Dutch painter died in July 1890 and experts believe he shot himself with the revolver in a field near Auvers-sur-Oise, a village north of Paris where he spent the last few months of his life. Discovered by a farmer in 1965 in the same field, the gun has previously been exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

But the sale was hit by controversy on the eve of the auction as the Van Gogh Institute, which looks after the village inn where the artist spent his last days, condemned the sale. "Nothing suggests that the remains (of the gun) are formally linked with the death of van Gogh," it said in a statement, deploring the "commercialization of a tragedy which deserves more respect."

Trending News

While Art Auction, which sold the gun, said there is no way of being absolutely certain it is the fatal weapon, they insisted tests showed it has been in the ground for 75 years, which would fit. The Dutch artist had borrowed the gun from the owner of the inn.

The gun believed to have been used by painter Vincent van Gogh to shoot himself on July 27, 1890, in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, is presented by Drouot auction house in Paris, June 14, 2019. Reuters/Charles Platiau

He died 36 hours later after staggering back wounded to the inn in the dark. The bullet extracted from van Gogh's chest was the same caliber as the one used by the Lefaucheux revolver.

Nor was it his first dramatic act of self-harm. Two years earlier, he cut off his ear, which he offered to a woman in a brothel in Arles, in southern France.

Auction Art said the farmer who found the gun in 1965 gave it to the former owners of the inn at Auvers-sur-Oise, whose family are now selling it. "Technical tests on the weapon have shown the weapon was used and indicate that it stayed in the ground for a period that would coincide with 1890," it said. "All these clues give credence to the theory that this is the weapon used in the suicide."

While most art historians agree van Gogh killed himself, that assumption has been questioned in recent years, with some claiming the fatal shot may have been fired accidentally by two local boys playing with the weapon in the field. That theory won fresh support from a biopic of the artist starring Willem Dafoe, CBS Films' "At Eternity's Gate," in which the gun goes off after the two brothers get into a struggle with the bohemian stranger.

A revolver believed to be the gun Dutch 19th century painter Vincent van Gogh used to kill himself on July 27, 1890, is seen on display at Paris' Drouot auction house on June 19, 2019.
A revolver believed to be the gun Dutch 19th century painter Vincent van Gogh used to kill himself on July 27, 1890, is seen on display at Paris' Drouot auction house on June 19, 2019. Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

The film's director, the renowned American painter Julian Schnabel, told AFP that van Gogh had painted 75 canvasses in his 80 days at Auvers-sur-Oise and was unlikely to be suicidal. The legendary French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere — who co-wrote the script with Schnabel — insisted that there "is absolutely no proof he killed himself."

"Van Gogh was working constantly. Every day he made a new work. He was not at all sad," Carriere said when the film premiered at the Venice film festival last year. "Do I believe that van Gogh killed himself? Absolutely not!"

Dafoe spoke to CBS' "Sunday Morning" about the painter. "Yes, he had lots of challenges, no doubt about that," Dafoe told correspondent Serena Altschul. "But he was also productive then. He was painting practically a painting a day. And you can tell from his letters how happy he was, his feeling of seeing something that's beautiful."

Carriere said Van Gogh painted some of his best work in his final days, including his "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," his friend the local doctor who later tried in vain to save his life. That canvass set a world record when it sold for $82.5 million in 1990.

Art Auction acknowledged that the gun could also have been hidden or abandoned by the two boys. While the van Gogh gun may have nearly tripled its estimate, it is still well short of the 434,500 euros ($460,000) paid two years ago for the gun with which the French writer Paul Verlaine tried to kill his lover and fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud.

The sale also comes as crowds are flocking to an immersive van Gogh exhibition in Paris which allows "the audience to enter his landscapes" through projections on the gallery's walls, ceilings and floors. "Van Gogh, Starry Night" runs at the Atelier des Lumieres in the east of the French capital until December.

First published on June 19, 2019 / 5:18 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

The gun believed to be used by painter Vincent van Gogh to shoot himself on July 27, 1890, in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, is presented by Drouot auction house in Paris June 14, 2019. A revolver believed to be the gun Dutch 19th century painter Vincent van Gogh used to kill himself on July 27, 1890, is seen on display at Paris' Drouot auction house on June 19, 2019.

House confronts the "inheritance of slavery" in panel on reparations

Witnesses at the hearing include Sen. Cory Booker, one of the Democratic presidential candidates, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover

12M ago

How to watch USA vs. Sweden in Women's World Cup

The American Women's National Team looks for its third win in a row at the tournament

updated 21M ago

Family searching for man who disappeared in Mexico

Jessy Pachecho, who had just graduated from medical school in Mexico, was there celebrating when he disappeared June 15

updated 20M ago

Cracker Barrel cancels church event over pastor's LGBT execution remarks

The restaurant chain said it disagrees with pastor Grayson Fritts' statements of hate and divisiveness

50M ago

City pays $600,000 to hackers who seized its computer system

Cyberattack blocked 911 dispatchers from logging calls, as a growing number U.S. municipalities are taken hostage

1H ago

House confronts the "inheritance of slavery" in panel on reparations

Witnesses at the hearing include Sen. Cory Booker, one of the Democratic presidential candidates, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover

12M ago

Fed wary of economic clouds, but leaves rates unchanged

Central bank officials say the economic outlook is increasingly uncertain — and signal their readiness to cut rates

1H ago

ICE chief confirms immigration roundups targeting families

"I don't want to send ICE agents to their workplace, I don't want to send ICE agents to their homes … but we have no choice," acting ICE director Mark Morgan told reporters

2H ago

Trump to award Medal of Freedom to tax-cut guru Arthur Laffer

As one of the chief architects of "supply-side" economics, theorist promoted the idea that slashing taxes drives growth

2H ago

Trump says he's draining the swamp as he's filling his Cabinet with ex-lobbyists

Incoming Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper's ethics agreement allows him to continue to receive deferred compensation from Raytheon

3H ago

"The most famous weapon in the history of art" sells at auction

Experts believe Vincent van Gogh shot himself with a revolver in a French field in 1890

23M ago

Family searching for man who disappeared in Mexico

Jessy Pachecho, who had just graduated from medical school in Mexico, was there celebrating when he disappeared June 15

updated 20M ago

Adidas 3-stripes logo deemed not worth trademarking

EU court ruling deals blow to sports powerhouse known for going after other companies for potential logo infringement

3H ago

Spy satellites show glaciers losing ground to climate change

Declassified spy satellite photos lead scientists to some startling conclusions

3H ago

Record 71 million people flee homes as "major powers" fail, UN says

Report by UN Refugee Agency paints stark picture of impact as world powers fail to stop global crises "running out of control"

5H ago

"Avengers: Endgame" getting re-released with new footage

Marvel's massive box office smash might be able to beat James Cameron's "Avatar," which holds the all-time record with $2.788 billion

1H ago

Highest-grossing movies of all time, ranked

What's the highest-grossing movie of all time? It might be one of your favorites

Jun 4 27 photos

Bella Thorne fires back at Whoopi Goldberg for shaming her

"Shame on you, Whoopi," Thorne said, after Goldberg said she should have known better than to take nude photos

1H ago

Rita Wilson on her pivot from acting to "beautiful musical intercourse"

Wilson just released her fourth studio album, "Halfway to Home," and is in the middle of a tour around the country

5H ago

Rita Wilson talks new album "Halfway to Home"

Rita Wilson has spent much of her life on screen in Hollywood. She played her first on-camera role as a teenager in a 1972 episode of "The Brady Bunch." After decades in front of and behind the camera she began a new chapter as a singer-songwriter. Wilson has just released her fourth studio album called "Halfway To Home" and is in the middle of a tour around the country. Wilson joins "CBS This Morning" to discuss pivoting to music and what she loves about songwriting.

8H ago 05:05

City pays $600,000 to hackers who seized its computer system

Cyberattack blocked 911 dispatchers from logging calls, as a growing number U.S. municipalities are taken hostage

1H ago

Bitcoin price hits 1-year high on boost from Facebook's Libra plan

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts see Facebook's move into digital money as "the catalyst everyone's been looking for"

9H ago

Why Facebook is minting its own currency

Social media company, no stranger to controversy, is diving into the brave new world of virtual money

Jun 18

Google commits $1 billion to ease housing crisis in the Bay Area

CEO Sundar Pichai said the internet company will pave the way for 20,000 new homes in the region over the next decade

2H ago

Meet Facebook's Libra, a digital currency for the social network

The company is partnering with big names like Visa, Mastercard, Uber and Spotify to create a new global cryptocurrency

23H ago

Spy satellites show glaciers losing ground to climate change

Declassified spy satellite photos lead scientists to some startling conclusions

3H ago

Hundreds of dead dolphins on Gulf Coast leave scientists perplexed

Almost 300 dead and dying dolphins have washed up on the shores of four Gulf Coast states – three times the usual number

9H ago

Starving polar bear wanders into Siberian city looking for food

Hundreds of miles from where it should be hunting, emaciated bear seen poking around on industrial estate for food

12H ago

Bear killed in Oregon after officials say it became too friendly

The bear had become "habituated" or accustomed to the area after people left food for it

21H ago

Sled dogs slog through meltwater on Greenland ice sheet

"Challenging conditions" for researchers collecting instruments used to measure sea ice brought on by "very warm conditions" in the Arctic

Jun 18

Driving while high: Offenders don't think they'll be arrested

AAA says in the last 30 days, almost 15 million drivers got behind the wheel within an hour of using marijuana

updated 44M ago

Trump vows to cure cancer and eradicate AIDS

"We will push onward with new medical frontiers," President Trump said at his campaign kickoff rally

4H ago

How endometriosis interferes with pregnancy and disrupts women's lives

The disease impacts an estimated ten percent of women during their reproductive years

9H ago

San Francisco city leaders vote to ban e-cigarette sales

The measure still requires final approval — but if it succeeds, San Francisco would be the first city to block the sale of e-cigs

9H ago

Dozens of farmworkers in Calif. vineyard exposed to pesticide

Three brought to hospital; they were all near field that was being sprayed when wind shifted

11H ago

Cracker Barrel cancels church event over pastor's LGBT execution remarks

The restaurant chain said it disagrees with pastor Grayson Fritts' statements of hate and divisiveness

50M ago

City pays $600,000 to hackers who seized its computer system

Cyberattack blocked 911 dispatchers from logging calls, as a growing number U.S. municipalities are taken hostage

1H ago

Wall Street ends higher after the Fed's hold-steady decision

Investors took the central bank's decision and revised outlook in stride, without reacting extremely one way or the other

1H ago

Fed wary of economic clouds, but leaves rates unchanged

Central bank officials say the economic outlook is increasingly uncertain — and signal their readiness to cut rates

1H ago

Driving while high: Offenders don't think they'll be arrested

AAA says in the last 30 days, almost 15 million drivers got behind the wheel within an hour of using marijuana

updated 44M ago

Alleged cult leader found guilty in sex trafficking case

Women say they were duped into joining a secretive sub-sect within the purported self-help group, branded and groomed for sex

updated 55M ago

22 St. Louis cops added to "exclusion list" over racist Facebook posts

Cops in St. Louis were accused by a national watchdog group of making racist and anti-Muslim social media comments

4H ago

Sneak peek: The Enemy Within

Real-life NCIS agents team up with Air Force investigators to solve the murder of an American airman in Japan, leading to a dark, twisted path of deception, fraud and witchcraft. Watch "NCIS: The Cases They Can't Forget" Wednesday, June 19 at 9/8c on CBS.

2H ago 04:28

Historic cocaine bust could yield even more

Investigators in Philadelphia are searching a cargo ship, captured in what's being called one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history. Officials tell CBS News there might be another 30 tons of cocaine on board, on top of what they've already found. Vladimir Duthiers reports.

9H ago 00:33

Ship with $1B worth of cocaine could have 30 more tons on board

Investigators continue to search the ship in what's being called one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history

2H ago

NASA to land 1st woman on moon as part of Artemis mission

NASA's project aims to bring human beings back to the moon by 2024

Jun 16

NASA spots "Star Trek" Starfleet logo on Mars

Hopefully, it finds some aliens sporting Vulcan salutes next

Jun 14

Earth approaching "meteor swarm" eyed in past impact

Scientists hope to study the Taurid meteor shower closely, in hopes of better predicting the risk of a future impact

Jun 12

SpaceX launches 3 Earth-observation satellites

The three Radarsat satellites will monitor resources and the effects of climate change across Canada

Jun 12

Jupiter's largest moons visible with binoculars in June

NASA has a message for space lovers this month: Look up

Jun 11

Photographer Dave Engledow, the "World's Best Father"

He calls himself the "World's Best Father," and he's got the pictures of himself and his daughter, Alice, to prove it

Jun 16 16 photos

Forbes: World's top 20 billionaires

Forbes has updated their billionaires list, detailing the richest people around the world.

Jun 13 21 photos

Tony Awards 2019: Red carpet looks from your favorite stars

See Broadway stars walk the red carpet at Radio City Music Hall in New York City at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards

Jun 9 39 photos

Jayme Closs case: Recently released evidence photos

At Jake Patterson's sentencing hearing, prosecutors showed a select few evidence photos to the court and asked that Patterson be sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Jayme Closs' parents and the 13-year-old's kidnapping

Jun 8 14 photos

Summer music 2019

It's summertime – time for music at festivals and venues across the country

Jun 8 58 photos

Popular

Sneak peek: Defending DJ

Inside a family’s mission to restore their son’s reputation seven years after he was fatally shot by a police officer. CBS News special correspondent James Brown reports Saturday, June 22 at 10/9c on CBS.

2H ago 03:37

2020 Democrats heading to South Carolina

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are focusing on the issue of race in America, ahead of Rep. Jim Clyburn's "World Famous Fish Fry" event in Columbia, South Carolina. The gathering is seen as a key local and national political weekend. CBSN "Red and Blue" anchor Elaine Quijano is in South Carolina with the latest.

updated 16M ago 06:37

Millions admit to driving while high

In the last month, almost 15 million drivers got behind the wheel of a car within an hour after using marijuana, according to a survey by AAA. The survey also revealed that nearly 70% of Americans think it's "unlikely" a motorist will be busted for driving while high. CBS News' Joy Benedict reports from Los Angeles.

updated 11M ago 01:37

Arkansas man goes missing in Mexico

A man from Van Buren, Arkansas, was visiting Mexico when he was last seen Saturday. Now, family and friends are doing anything they can to find him. KFSM-TV's Tori Johnson reports.

updated 36M ago 01:41

Why some women are questioning the pill

The birth control pill is one of the most widely used forms of contraception in the U.S., but some women seem to be rethinking it. New York Magazine's The Cut published an article exploring skepticism about hormonal birth control. The author, Anna Silman, joined CBSN to discuss what she found.

updated 36M ago 05:31