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Gun believed to have killed Van Gogh to go under the hammer in Paris

The revolver with which Vincent Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself is to go under the hammer, a Paris auction house said on Tuesday.

Gun believed to have killed Van Gogh to go under the hammer in Paris
Vincent Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself. Photo: AFP

Discovered by a farmer in 1965 in the same field where the troubled Dutch painter is thought to have fatally wounded himself 75 years before, the gun has already been exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Billed by Auction Art as “the most famous weapon in the history of art”, the 7 mm Lefaucheux revolver is expected to go for up to €60,000 when it is sold on June 19.

READ ALSO Van Gogh's former home and nine other Paris streets you must walk down


An unknown when he died, Van Gogh is now one of the world's most renowned artists. Photo: AFP

Van Gogh experts believe that he shot himself with the revolver near the village of Auvers-sur-Oise north of Paris, where he spent the last few months of his life in 1890. 

The Dutch artist had borrowed the gun from the owner of the inn where he was staying.

He died 36 hours later after staggering wounded back to the inn in the dark. 

It was not his first dramatic act of self-harm. Two years earlier in 1888, he cut off his ear before offering it to a woman in a brothel in Arles in the south of France.

While most art historians agree that Van Gogh killed himself, that assumption has been questioned in recent years, with some researchers claiming that the fatal shot may have been fired accidentally by two local boys playing with the weapon in the field.

That theory got fresh support from a new biopic of the artist starring Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity's Gate”.

Its 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. 

“Do I believe that Van Gogh killed himself? Absolutely not!” he declared when the film was premiered at the Venice film festival in September.

He said Van Gogh painted some of his best work in his final days, including his “Portrait of Dr Gachet”, the local doctor who later tried to save his life.

It set a world record when it sold for $82.5 million in 1990.

The bullet Dr Gachet extracted from Van Gogh's chest was the same calibre as the one used by the Lefaucheux revolver.

“Van Gogh was working constantly. Every day he made a new work. He was not at all sad,” Carriere argued.

In the film the gun goes off after the two young boys, who were brothers, got into a struggle with the bohemian stranger.

Auction Art said that the farmer who found the gun in 1965 gave it to the 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.”

That did not exclude, the auction house added, that the gun could not also have been hidden or abandoned by the two young brothers in the field.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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