This is the Dr. Gachet you’re probably familiar with. He’s at the Musee d’Orsay, wearing what Van Gogh described as “the heartbroken expression of our time.”
If you were really paying attention, you might have noticed Dr. Gachet hanging out in other famous museums, looking entirely different.
Dr. Paul Ferdinand Gachet was no ordinary artists’ model. Nor was he an ordinary doctor. His specialty was melancholy, professionally and personally. Van Gogh was under his care during the last 80 days of his life (and proclaimed the doctor “sicker than I am” in a letter to Theo).
Gachet was friends with and treated Pissarro, Renoir, Manet and Cezanne just to name a few. He had amassed one of the largest impressionist art collections in Europe before he died in 1909. Oddly, the information out there on him is pretty sketchy.
A little backstory: He was born to a well to do manufacturing family in Lille in 1828. He became interested in art as a teenager, but went on to study medicine in Paris. In addition to earning his medical degree in Paris (his thesis was a study of melancholy), he became friends with some of the more revolutionary minds in Paris who acquainted him with the modern art scene brewing in the city. He was hooked.
As he grew his coterie of artist friends (and his art collection), Gachet also married Blanche Castets in 1868. He was said to be passionately in love with her, although I’ve yet to find a photo or evidence of her existence, except their two children, Marguerite and Paul fils (jr). More on them later. Here are some portraits of Gachet by his friends and patients.
The painting below is Van Gogh’s second painting of Gachet. It’s been missing since the 90’s when it was purchased by a Japanese industrialist. Shortly after that, he went broke and died. Nobody knows where the painting is. He may have sold it off when he went broke, but there were also rumors that he was buried with it (which would be pretty selfish of him).
Shrouding the painting in more mystery, is the theory that it’s actually a copy made by one of the Gachets from the blue one (both Dr. Gachet and his son were notorious copiers of art in their possession). But before we jump to forgery conclusions (which I’d love to do), I should mention that Van Gogh mentioned painting this one as well as the blue one in letters to Theo. Also, copying art was a learning technique of the day and practiced by other painters and teachers.
Here’s a photo of Dr. Gachet for comparison.
After a brief stint as a front line doctor during the Prussian seige of Paris in 1870, Gachet moved his family and ailing wife to Auvers-sur-oise, where he became friends with Pissarro, Cezanne and Guillaumin (clearly the dude was an artist groupie). His wife died in 1875. His home, garden and daughter became a frequent subject for painters.
The following two paintings were done when Marguerite Gachet was 19 years old. The novel “The Last Van Gogh” is based on the premise that Van Gogh and Marguerite were having an ill fated, secret affair. There’s no evidence of this, but it’s a good story. Marguerite was rather mysterious, never married and rarely left her father’s house in Auvers until she died in 1949. Van Gogh did have a habit of falling for the first available female in the room, even if they happened to be his own relative (he was heartbroken by a cousin who rejected his marriage proposal when he was a young man). The author, Alyson Richman Berkley, says she was inspired by Van Gogh’s portrait of her at the piano
Here a a couple of photos of the subject, Ms. Gachet:
Dr. Gachet was more than a mediocre doctor. He fancied himself an artist and engraver. He practiced his art under the nom de plume (or is that nom de peintre?), Paul van Ryssel. His most famous work is a sketch of Van Gogh on his death bed.. In my book, it makes him more like paparazzi than a doctor. Michael Jackson’s final doctor (Dr. Conrad Murray) comes to mind.
Here are some other examples of Gachet’s art that I’ve found:
See the original by Cezanne.
Unlike his artist friends, Gachet had enough money to buy a press and copper etching plates. He shared it with his good friends Pissarro, Guillaumin and Paul Cezanne. One blog I read claims that the artists had such similar approaches, they each adopted an emblem to distinguish their work from one another. Pissarro was a flower, Guillaumin was a cat, Cezanne was a hanged man and Gachet was a duck. The stamps on some of the following prints don’t quite jibe with this theory.
Paul Gachet fils (son of Dr. Gachet) was an art dealer, which makes perfect sense for someone who inherited hundreds original works art and no discernible talent or skill. Like his father, Paul Gachet fils dabbled in creating mediocre art. He painted under the name Louis van Ryssel (L. van Ryssel). He was born in 1873 and died in 1962. A couple of samples here.
- Gachet’s house and garden today:
- Gachet grew his own herbs and made his own extracts and sold them to patients to cure what ailed them. Can you say “snake oil salesman?”
Dr. Paul Ferdinand Gachet died in 1909 at the ripe old age of 80. He’s buried at Pere Lachaise in Paris. Even in the afterlife he’s mingling with people more talented than himself. I’m sure he’d like that.
Some good articles on the subject:
“Dr. Gachet, Friend to the Painters,” New York Times 1999
“No Cachet in a Gachet”, The Independent 1999
“Van Gogh’s Vanishing Act,” US News and World Report, 2000
Filed under: art, culture, Doctor, Dr. Gachet, Dr. Gachet's Garden, Dr. Gachet's house, Dr. Paul Gachet, french culture, Impressionists, Paris, tourism, travel, travel humor, Val d' Oise, Vincent Van Gogh Tagged: | Ambroise Detrez, Armand Gautier, Armand Guillaumin, art, art history, Cezanne, Doctor Gachet, Gachet's garden, Impressionist painters, Impressionists, Louis van Ryssel, Marguerite Gachet, Marguerite gachet in the garden, Norbert Goeneutte, Paul van Ryssel, photograph of dr. gachet, portrait of dr. gachet, portraits of Dr. Gachet, The Last Van Gogh