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Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890

Vincent van Gogh

Dutch, 1853-1890
Etching on paper
7-3/16 x 6 in. (18.3 x 15.2 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1976.11.G
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on view

In June of 1890, Vincent wrote to his sister Wilhelmina: “I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally." Having just arrived in Auvers-sur-Oise after a prolonged stay at a mental asylum in St. Rémy, Vincent found a sympathetic soulmate in Dr. Paul Ferdinand Gachet, a local homeopathic physician who had been recommended to Vincent’s family by fellow artist Camille Pissarro. (Coincidentally, Pissarro was the first owner of Van Gogh’s Mulberry Tree in this same museum.) Gachet was a patron of many contemporary artists and an artist himself, and he introduced Vincent to the art of etching. As told by both Gachet and later his son, Vincent had come for a weekly meal with the family, and afterward was invited to create an etching of his own on a prepared copper plate. Vincent proposed a portrait of his host, and then proceeded to etch into the plate this likeness of his friend. Gachet and he then made prints from the plate not only in the traditional ink, but also in several different pigmented colors. It was the only etching Van Gogh made during his short life, which ended abruptly less than two months later. But in the interim, he painted close to 80 paintings, two of which were portraits of Gachet after this etching. One of these painted portraits is now in a private collection, having fetched more than $82 million at an auction in 1990.

After Vincent’s death, Dr. Gachet himself printed posthumous copies of the portraits from the copper plate he retained, and some of these prints he gave to friends with special handwritten dedications. This piece is inscribed to the artist Henri Doucet (1883–1915) from “Van Ryssel,” Gachet’s pseudonym. The copper plate was later donated to the Musée du Louvre by Gachet’s son, Paul, in 1951, and is now housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.


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