We left the Absinthe Museum and trekked across town to see the house of Doctor Gachet. I have always wondered what significance this mysterious doctor had in the story of Van Gogh. I wasn’t quite satisfied with what I learned during the trip, so after I got back to Paris, I did some research on the Internet. Here are the details as I understand them:
Van Gogh had always been a somewhat irascible man, but his emotional state deteriorated dramatically when he was in the town of Arles with painter Paul Gauguin. In a fit of anger following a dispute with Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off his own ear and presented it to a prostitute. He almost bled to death. (A fascinating account of Van Gogh’s ear can be found here.)
Following this incident, Van Gogh was committed to a mental institution in the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. During his stay, he experienced hallucinations and seizures. (An excellent paper on the probable causes of the affliction that tormented Van Gogh can be found here. The paper also refutes the notion that the artist only sold one of his works during his lifetime.)
Van Gogh stayed in Saint-Rémy for about a year, until his brother Theo helped him moved to Auvers-sur-Oise. In Auvers, he would live independently but be under the discreet care of a medical doctor who treated nervous disorders. That doctor was Doctor Gachet.
Docteur Gachet was not only a physician, but also an art collector and amateur artist. He felt affinity for Van Gogh and tried to help him. Van Gogh, however, had doubts about Gachet’s ability to help and he wrote to his brother Théo to say that the doctor was “sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much . . . .”
The famous portrait that Van Gogh painted of Gachet attests to the good doctor’s melancholic state of mind, as Van Gogh perceived it.
Today, the house of Doctor Gachet is owned by the Conseil Général du Val-d’Oise, a governmental agency. In the spirit of Doctor Gachet’s passion for art, the house is used to exhibit paintings of young artists.
Following our tour of the house and gardens, we returned to Paris. It had been a wonderful day walking in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh!
Coming next week: A day at the races!
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