Portrait of Dr. Gachet


Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Portrait of Dr. Gachet is one of the most revered paintings by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. It depicts Dr. Paul Gachet who took care of Van Gogh during the final months of his life. There are two authenticated versions of the portrait, both painted in June 1890 at Auvers-sur-Oise. Both show Gachet sitting at a table and leaning his head on his right arm but they are easily differentiated in color and style. In 1990, the first version fetched a record price of $82.5 million ($75 million, plus a 10 percent buyer’s commission) when sold at auction in New York.[1]

1 Background
In 1890, Van Gogh’s brother Theo was searching for a home for the artist upon his release from an asylum at Saint-Rémy. Upon the recommendation of Camille Pissarro, a former patient of the doctor who told Theo of Gachet’s interests in working with artists, Theo sent Vincent to Gachet’s second home in Auvers.[1] Vincent van Gogh’s first impression of Gachet was unfavorable. Writing to Theo he remarked: „I think that we must not count on Dr. Gachet at all. First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that’s that. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don’t they both fall into the ditch?“[2] However, in a letter dated two days later to their sister Wilhelmina, he relayed, „I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally.“[3] Van Gogh’s thoughts returned several times to the painting by Eugène Delacroix of Torquato Tasso in the madhouse. After a visit with Paul Gauguin to Montpellier to see Alfred Bruyas’s collection in the Musée Fabre, Van Gogh wrote to Theo, asking if he could find a copy of the lithograph after the painting.[4] Three and a half months earlier, he had been thinking of the painting as an example of the sort of portraits he wanted to paint: „But it would be more in harmony with what Eugène Delacroix attempted and brought off in his Tasso in Prison, and many other pictures, representing a real man. Ah! portraiture, portraiture with the thought, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must come.“[5] Van Gogh wrote to his sister in 1890 about the painting: I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it… Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done… There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.[6]

  1. Ravin, James; Amalric, Pierre (1997). „Paul-Ferdinand Gachet’s unpublished manuscript Ophthalmia in the Armies of Europe“. Documenta Ophthalmologica. 93 (1/2): 49–59. doi:10.1007/bf02569046. 
  2. Letter 648
  3. Letter W22
  4. Letter 564
  5. Letter 531
  6. Letter W23


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