The map of his madness - according to the accepted theory - ultimately led Vincent to the wheat fields one summer evening. There, armed with a pistol, he attempted suicide. Gravely wounded, he managed somehow to get himself down the hill and up the stairs to his tiny rented room - this room - in the town of Auvers. Where, 30 hours later, he died, with Theo at his side. That's the story that's endured for 122 years.
Smith: The first inkling that I got that there was something wrong was when I really started to look at the existing story. There were so many things about it that were wrong, and didn't make sense.
Their database kept yielding inconsistencies, contradictions and unexplained questions about the official story. For instance:
Naifeh: How did he get the gun? Everybody in Auvers knew that he had been in an insane asylum. Pistols were a rarity in rural France. Who would've given Vincent van Gogh a gun?
When we return: what the authors think is the true story of van Gogh's death.
In 1956, the movie "Lust for Life" was released. That biography of Vincent van Gogh more than anything else etched into history the suicide in the wheat field version of how he died. It starred Kirk Douglas as the troubled artist.
Troubled in so many ways: bedeviled by hallucinations, depressed, probably alcoholic, suffering from that curse of the 19th century, syphilis. A lonely figure to be avoided or mocked.
But in the spring of 1890, at age 37, he found a place he thought would bring him peace: the French village of Auvers, where he would die just 70 days after his arrival. The authors of the new van Gogh biography maintain the circumstances of his death were far different from the movie version.
Auvers was just a half hour train ride from Paris. A quiet, bucolic farming town on the banks of the river Oise. The area was a magnet for painters like Cezanne, Pissarro and Corot, giants of modern art.
Naifeh: This was not only a place where the best artists of the era came to paint, because it was so beautiful. For somewhat similar reasons, the wealthy of Paris would come and summer here. It was sort of the Hamptons of the 1890s.
Safer: The smart set.
Naifeh: The smart set came here.
Inspired by his surroundings, van Gogh painted like a man possessed, turning out a picture a day. He painted the medieval church on the hill, looking as though it's about to jump off the canvas. He painted the town hall, decked out for Bastille Day. And just across the street, the Auberge Ravoux, the inn where he lived and took his meals.
Safer: He ate here every day?
Naifeh: He did eat here every day. His only social interaction during the day was in ordering food which is really incredibly sad.
In this picture taken outside the inn the year Vincent died, Gustave Ravoux, the owner, sits at the left. His teenage daughter Adeline stands in the doorway. Key figures in the story of what happened on Sunday, July 27, 1890.
Safer: On that day like most other days, Vincent left the cafe carrying his easel, some canvases and his paint box, ready to begin yet another day of feverish work. And just as the sun was setting, he returned to the cafe: staggering, clutching his stomach, clearly in great pain. Was his injury the result of a botched suicide attempt - as the official history maintains - or had something else happened?