Van Gogh, Vincent (Dutch, 1853-1890)

Dr. Paul Gachet

Reference Type:
Vincent van Gogh willingly put his care into the hands of Dr. Paul Gachet (1828-1909), a physician in Auvers, France who practiced homeopathic medicine. Gachet had elixirs for everything, which he distributed free of charge, thus making himself very popular. He was also an amateur artist. Van Gogh wrote, “I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally. He is a very nervous man himself and very queer in his behavior.” Another time, he described Gachet as “rather eccentric, but his experience as a doctor must keep him balanced enough to combat the nervous trouble from which he certainly seems to be suffering at least as seriously as I.” Later, he wrote, “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.” But as a friend and supporter, van Gogh could not have found better: “this gentleman knows a great deal about painting, and he greatly likes mine; he strongly encourages me, and two or three times a week he comes to spend a few hours with me to see what I am doing.” Gachet believed in occupational therapy, and encouraged van Gogh to paint to keep his mind active and distracted. Van Gogh wrote to his mother, “he tells me that in my case work is the best thing to keep my balance.” Gachet liked this portrait, which he said showed him “with the heartbroken expression of our time.” The objects on the table were chosen with care: a foxglove, or digitalis plant, used for heart treatment; and two books by the Goncourt brothers—one about the Parisian art world and the other a study of neuroses. The portrait captures the doctor’s compassion and vulnerability and reflects the concept of intersubjectivity—just as the doctor knows the patient, the patient knows the doctor, and in an ongoing relationship each of them both benefits and suffers from the association. This portrait can be compared to an image of Gachet by Norbert Gouneutte, painted the following year ( Notes by Mariann Smith and Dr. Linda Pessar
Physician-Patient Relations
Musee d'Orsay, Paris