64 days in heaven and hell (154) Day 62 ctd. - At the gates of hell The weather was still bad in the afternoon and kept both painters inside. The atmosphere was tense. Gauguin had nothing to do and was restless. Van Gogh was brooding over the unfinished hands of ‘La Berceuse’ and even more over Gauguin’s possible departure. All of a sudden, they had a fierce argument over a serial killer who was haunted by horla-like nightmares while he waited for his execution. Towards the evening, Gauguin prepared their dinner in the kitchen behind the studio, gobbled his food in a brooding silence and left the house. Perhaps he just went out for a breath of air between two downpours, perhaps he wanted to drown his misery in the Café de la Gare. But when Van Gogh heard the door slam, he must have believed that Gauguin was leaving for good. He ran out, caught up with him in the middle of the park in front of the Yellow House and asked him point-blank if he was going away. The reply was yes. Perhaps Gauguin only confirmed that he wanted to leave in due course, but his answer was understood as the dreaded definitive verdict. In silence, Van Gogh handed the ‘traitor’ a piece of paper, torn from a page of L’Intransigeant. It was the article about a murderer on the run.
For Gauguin, this frightening episode came on top of Vincent’s increasingly bizarre behaviour of the last couple of weeks. He didn’t dare to go back to the house and spent the night in a hotel. When he returned to the Yellow House in the morning, it was surrounded by a crowd and by police.
Inside the house, blood was everywhere.
Gauguin was immediately questioned as the possible perpetrator of a terrible attack on his friend, who was found upstairs in his bed, motionless, in a fetal position and his head covered with cloth.
Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh I, 1956. Oil on canvas, 154 x 116 cm. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, Norfolk, UK (on loan)