GACHET Dr Paul
( 1828-1909). Born in Lille; died in Auvers. Dr Gachet had long been interested in art and was a personal friend of painters such as Pissarro and Cézanne. He himself tried his hand at etching, a technique which he was to impart to Van Gogh. The two men liked each other immediately. Gachet at once realized that the best way to calm his patient's troubled spirits was to encourage him to work. Van Gogh stayed first at the Café Saint-Aubin, and subsequently took lodgings at the Café Ravoux in the Place de la Mairie, of which he has left us an impression as innocent and lighthearted as a drawing by a child. At Auvers, as at Saint-Rémy, rhythm was the predominant structural element of his canvases, whose violent brushwork, thick impasto and whirling lines were nevertheless held in check by a strict sense of composition.
His innate taste for painting and abiding friendship for painters, rather than the collector's urge, prompted Dr Gachet to gather around him at his home in Auvers-sur-Oise the greatest painters of his time. Not only Cézanne and Van Gogh but Pissaro, Renoir, Monet and Guillaumin were frequent visitors at the doctor's home. He became fond of them all, and their friendship went far beyond the usual relations between artist and collector. In fact, Cézanne stayed in Auvers for two years, from 1872 to 1874; moreover -- and this is of capital importance in his life -- it was at Auvers that he abandoned his romantic style and turned towards the new vision of reality that was to characterize his work and revolutionize modern painting. It was during his conversations with the doctor, and in the company of Pissaro, that Cézanne made in a few hours the disordered version of his Modern Olympia, at the same time that he was painting, in quite another vein, the celebrated House of the Hanged Man.
The relations between Doctor Gachet and Van Gogh were particularly close. After leaving the asylum at Saint-Rémy, Vincent, on the advice of Pissaro, went to stay at Auvers on May 20th, 1890, and saw much of the doctor, who was the artists' physician as well as their benefactor. Their friendship was to be short and tragic, for it ended, on the 27th of July, with Van Gogh's suicide. Dr Gachet had tried, with the utmost skill and discretion, to persuade Vincent that he was not so ill as he thought. He gave him a measure of confidence in his abilities, and patiently endured his rebuffs and violence. In his calmer moments Vincent showed a tender affection for the doctor and his wife. In June he painted a picture or Mademoiselle Gachet at the Piano and the celebrated portrait of the doctor wearing his famous white cap. When Van Gogh shot himself near the heart on the evening of July 27th, Doctor Gachet tended him for two days in a desperate effort to save him. Gachet has left us two moving mememtoes of Van Gogh on his death-bed-a charcoal drawing and an etching.
Two paintings stand out among the works produced at Auvers: the Portrait of Dr Gachet and his last Self-Portrait. Set against a background of intensest blue, the portrait of the doctor is built around the pale, penetrating eyes with their expression of deep sorrow. The self-portrait of Van Gogh in a greenish blue, relieved only by the touch of red in the beard, represents yet one more encounter between Van Gogh and his second self.
Van Gogh's friendship for the doctor, however, soon became charged with mistrust. He fell into violent rages and even threatened the other's life. As Gauguin had done at Arles, Gachet halted his menacing gesture with a single glance.
Dr Gachet was himself a competent artist with a strong predilection for engraving. There is a drawing in existence by Cézanne in which the artist is shown being given a lesson in engraving by the doctor. At his death his collection of Impressionist pictures was kept intact. The most important paintings such as Renoir Portrait of a Model, Monet Chrysanthemums, Cézanne Modern Olympia, Sisley Saint Martin's Canal, and Van Gogh's two pictures The Doctor's Portrait and Auvers Church were left by Dr Gachet's son Paul to the Louvre in 1952.
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