From the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France:
Inseparably entwined with the last period of Vincent van Gogh's life in Auvers, Dr Gachet was an original character. He was a homoeopathic doctor interested in chiromancy but his real passion lay with the arts. An accomplished engraver himself, he kept in touch with many different artists including Manet, Monet, Renoir and Cézanne. It was therefore logical for Van Gogh to go to him, on the advice of his brother Theo, when he was discharged from hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Specialised in psychiatry, the doctor did his best to help Vincent overcome his anguish while affording him the material comfort conducive to his well-being.
The portrait of the doctor was painted during this particularly intense creative phase. He was no ordinary model and is portrayed in a melancholy pose reflecting "the desolate expression of our time," as Van Gogh wrote. The only touch of hope in this severe portrait brushed in cold colours is the foxglove which brings a little comfort and relief through its curative properties. Despite his devotion, Dr Gachet was unable to prevent Van Gogh's irremediable gesture; the artist committed suicide shortly afterwards.
Theo van Gogh to Vincent van Gogh. Paris, Saturday, 10 May 1890.
My dear Vincent,
Thanks very much for your two letters; I’m very happy that the improvement continues, and it would give me great pleasure if you could make the journey, without danger. Does it also seem to you that it’s such a long time since we saw each other? Since you find it such an annoyance to travel with someone from the asylum, for heaven’s sake, you must risk it, although I’m not like you and wouldn’t do it, to avoid, should the crisis seize hold of you again, all the miseries that would emerge should you, at an unknown station, have to deal with people you don’t know and who would treat you who knows how. Now if you leave, send me a telegram without fail so that I know what time you’ll be arriving at the Gare de Lyon so that I can come and fetch you. Of course you must come to our place, if you don’t mind making do with the little bedroom where we’ve put up Wil and several others. I wrote to Dr Gachet yesterday to ask him when he’s coming to Paris, for he gives consultations then. And at the same time I asked him to find out about lodgings for you.
Yes, the change of region might do you good, but towards winter it’s perhaps better that you should be in a warmer climate. But we’ll have time to talk about all that. I’ve written to Dr Peyron to tell him that if there isn’t a definite danger, he should do as you wish and let you go. As he’s been kind to you, try not to hurt him. I had ordered the colours you asked for from Tanguy and Tasset, telling myself that anyway it wouldn’t be lost. If the colours hadn’t yet arrived, leave orders for them to be sent on. Will you at last be able to find a place where you can have a little tranquillity without having people and things around you that annoy you? I hope so with all my heart, and it’s possible that in any event this might be an improvement, but people are more or less the same everywhere, and when artistic things preoccupy you, you find very few people who understand you. It’s Latin to them, and they regard it only as a pastime that isn’t to be taken seriously.
I haven’t yet been to the Salon, which is apparently very mediocre, so they say, but there’s an exhibition of Japanese drawings and prints which you’ll see when you come, which is superb. I’d like you to be here already, don’t forget to telegraph me. Warm regards from Jo and the little one, they’re both well.
Good handshake, and au revoir.
I’m enclosing 150 francs for the journey, telegraph me if by chance it isn’t enough.