17/10/2011 11:01 BST | Updated 17/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Van Gogh's Famous Suicide Was Actually An Accident, Says Revelatory Book

For an artist as tortured as Vincent Van Gogh it seems quite explicable - if tragic - that his life ended in suicide.

But for two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors the accepted story that the Dutch master shot himself in a wheat field at Auvers-sur-Oise, France in July 1890 just isn't convincing enough.

Instead, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith argue in their book 'Van Gogh: The Life', it was "far more likely" that Van Gogh was shot by somebody else - and that his death was probably an accident.

Naifeh and Smith suggest that Van Gogh was in fact shot by a 16-year-old boy called Rene Secretan, who had a history of tormenting him. Once he was shot the artist struggled back to an inn where he died 30 hours later.

The proponents of the theory admit that still "surprisingly little is known about the incident". However, by piecing together clues about his life and habits they have decided there is enough evidence to build a case.

Van Gogh was known to often go drinking with two teenage boys at the time he was shot, they argue. One of the boys, Secretan, liked to wear a cowboy outfit bought from Paris, accessorised with a real and apparently erratic pistol.

The authors think that this boy accidentally shot Van Gogh in the field and that, as an act of generosity, Van Gogh took the blame. They add that this theory was rumoured around town at the time.

Naifeh and Smith also point to the oblique angle that the bullet entered Van Gogh's abdomen, unusual for a suicide, and emphasise how, when asked on his death bed whether he had deliberately set out to kill himself, the artist replied with a very vague "yes, I believe so" .

It also seems odd, they say, that he shot himself into the chest rather than the head and did not shoot himself again to finish the job.

Other revelations in the book suggest that Van Gogh was even more unstable and promiscuous than previously thought, that he had a form of epilepsy, that his family tried to have him sectioned and that some of them believed that he killed his father.