Vincent van Gogh was accidentally shot dead by a teenager and did not commit suicide as is widely accepted, a new book has claimed.

A new biography of the Dutch painter’s life – who famously cut off his own ear – says that the suicide story was fabricated to protect 16-year-old Rene Secretan, who did not mean to kill him.

The book, written by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, argues that Van Gogh was shot in a wheat field by the boy on July 27, 1890. The story goes that Van Gogh then staggered back to an inn in which he had been staying and died 30 hours later.

The authors also claim that the artist was asked if he meant to commit suicide, and that he replied: “Yes, I believe so.”

Co-author Naifeh said: “We have thought about this revelation long and hard and our feeling is that it ennobles Vincent.

“If in fact the person who pulled the trigger wasn’t Vincent but Rene, for him to take the blame because he realised that it was an accident and it would ruin these two boys’ lives was an act of generosity.”

However, art insiders have called the story “unconvincing”.

BBC News’ arts editor Will Gompertz said: “On page 851 the authors start to make their case that Vincent Van Gogh was shot by a 16-year-old boy called Rene Secretan, who had a history of tormenting the troubled artist.

“On answering why the dying Vincent would have covered up the truth for a boy he loathed… the authors reasoned, ‘because Vincent welcomed death’ and didn’t want to drag the brothers ‘into the glare of public enquiry… for having done him this favour’.  

“That doesn’t sound a strong enough case upon which to base their argument.”

Gompertz added: “As they admit in the book, the truth of the matter is that, “surprisingly little is known about the incident.

“Which leaves, of course, plenty of room for conjecture.”