Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Van Gogh, Vincent
Genre: Oil on canvas
- Bertman, Sandra
- Date of entry: Jul-28-2006
Dr. Gachet looks beyond the viewer with melancholy gaze. His eyes, drooped with sadness, appear to search resignedly for something in the distance; his skin tone is sallow. He rests his head on one hand, while the other hand rests precariously on the table beside him. Lines of color swim around and through the doctor--a technique distinctive to Van Gogh--all of which are directed almost uniformly towards the top left corner of the painting. Amidst this hubbub of color and energy, the Doctor rests impassively in what seems a commentary on his mental health.
Upon the red table rest two books and a vase of flowers. The books are titled Germinie Lacerteux (1864) and Manette Salomon (1867-68) and were written by two brothers who worked in close collaboration, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. According to M. Therese Southgate, the books may thus represent the close relationship between Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, which Southgate calls "symbiotic, and eventually tragic" (Theo became insane after Vincent's death and died six months later). (See page 207 of alternate source.) The vase contains flowers of foxglove, from which the heart medication digitalis is derived. The flowers, therefore, may represent the physician aspect of Dr. Gachet.
Dr. Gachet and Van Gogh enjoyed a dual relationship as doctor and patient and as friends. Gachet was a great philanthropic supporter of the arts, an amateur artist himself, and a doctor and friend to many Parisian artists of the day. Van Gogh felt particular affinity for him on account of their similar bouts with depression and their dependency on their vocation for emotional and intellectual fulfillment.
From a medical standpoint, this portrait deserves analysis for its insight into the strength of a particular doctor-patient relationship, and for the recognition that doctors are quite often also patients--doctors may suffer from problems similar to even those that they treat. For additional insight into Dr. Gachet see annotation for Van Gogh's sketch, Dr. Gachet (Man with a Pipe). In that picture, the doctor is depicted without accompanying objects, except for his pipe. See also the annotation of Goya's Goya Attended by Dr. Arrieta.