An anonymous phone bidder took home the Lefaucheux revolver, its casing heavily rusted and the inlay of the curved handle missing, for more than double the highest estimates made by experts at auction house Drouot.
“It is a very emblematic piece,” said auctioneer Gregoire Veyres. “The fact that it’s a gun, it’s an object of death. And if van Gogh is van Gogh, it’s because of his suicide and this gun is part of it.”
Van Gogh died in 1890 at the age of just 37, two days after shooting himself in the chest in a wheat field where he had previously painted.
The Dutch artist suffered bouts of psychosis and deep depression throughout his life, and torment often infused his art, whether in intense self-portraits or works such as The Starry Night and Sunflowers.
The great painter is also notorious for having chopped off part of his own left ear with a razor blade during an argument with fellow artist Paul Gauguin.
The details of his death at Auvers-sur-Oise, just outside Paris, in June of 1890 are well-documented.
After failing to kill himself instantly with a gun shot, he stumbled back to the inn where he was staying and was looked after by the innkeeper, Arthur Ravoux, and his daughter Adeline, who was 13 at the time and recounted the events more than 60 years later.
“I have tried to kill myself,” van Gogh is reputed to have told Ravoux. The artist had spent more than two months at the inn, producing a whirlwind of some 80 paintings in what would be his final, distraught flurry of creativity.
Searches for the gun began the day after he died but the likely weapon was not found until the 1960s, in a field near to where he was staying before his death. The weapon was the correct calibre and showed indications that it had been fired.
It was discovered by a farmer and ended up in the possession of a woman whose child was the seller.
“There are lot of indicators that favour its attribution,” said Mr Veyres.
However, doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the firearm.
Exhaustive efforts to confirm the gun’s link to van Gogh, including tests that established it had been buried for 50 to 80 years, led to a 2012 book.
A similar Lefaucheux revolver used by Paul Verlaine to try to kill his lover and fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud in 1873 was sold at auction in Paris in 2016, fetching £385,000.
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