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Portrait of Dr. Gachet

 


Portrait of Dr. Gachet
is one of the most revered paintings by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh and fetched a record price of $82.5 million ($75 million, plus a 10 percent buyer's commission) in 1990.


There are two authentic versions of this portrait, both painted in June 1890 during the last months of Van Gogh's life. Both show Doctor Gachet sitting at a table and leaning his head onto his right arm, but they are easily differentiated.

Genesis

The portraits were painted in Auvers-sur-Oise close to Paris, and depict Doctor Paul Gachet with a foxglove plant. Gachet took care of Van Gogh during the artist's last months. Gachet was a hobby painter and became good friends with Van Gogh. The foxglove in the painting is a plant from which digitalis is extracted for the treatment of certain heart complaints; the foxglove is thereby an attribute of Gachet as a doctor.

 

Melancholy

Van Gogh's thoughts returned several times to the painting by Eugene Delacroix of Torquato Tasso in the madhouse. After a visit with Paul Gauguin to Montpellier to see Alfred Bruyas 's collection in the Musee Fabre, Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo , asking if he could find a copy of the lithograph after the painting. 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 Eugene 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."

Van Gogh wrote to his brother 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.

 

Cultural use

The first version plays an important role in the crime novel Lifeguard (2005) by James Patterson and Andrew Gross.


 

Provenance

The original version of this painting was sold by van Gogh's sister-in-law for 300 francs in 1897. Subsequently it was sold respectively to Paul Cassirer (1904), Kessler (1904), and Druet (1910). In 1911 the painting was acquired by the Stadel (Stadtische Galerie) in Frankfurt, Germany and hung there until 1933, when the painting was put in a hidden room. In 1937, it was confiscated by the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, an arm of the Nazi government that sought to rid pre-war Germany of so-called degenerate art. It came into the possession of Hermann Goring, who quickly sold it to a dealer in Amsterdam. The dealer in turn sold it to a collector, Siegfried Kramarsky, who brought it with him when he fled to New York, where the work was often lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kramarsky's family put the painting up for auction in 1990. The painting became famous on May 15, 1990 , when Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito paid US$82.5 million for it at auction in Christie's New York, making it the most expensive painting in the world up to that time. Saito, the honorary chairman of Daishowa Paper Manufacturing Co. and then 75 years old, caused a scandal when he said he would have the Van Gogh painting cremated with him after his death. He later said, "What I really wanted to [express] was my wish to preserve the paintings forever." Saito, his aides explained, was using a figure of speech, and his threatening to torch the masterpiece was just an expression of intense affection for it. Later he said he would consider giving the paintings to his government or a museum. After his death in 1996, the exact location and ownership of the portrait had been shrouded in mystery. In early 2007, however, reports surfaced that the painting had been sold a decade earlier by Saito or his estate to the Austrian-born investment fund manager Wolfgang Flottl. Flottl, in turn, had reportedly been forced by financial reversals to sell the painting to parties as yet unknown.

The second version of the portrait is in the possession of the Musee d'Orsay , Paris , France.

 



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