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Portrait of Dr. Gachet

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Created: 1890
Dimensions (cm): 56.0 x 67.0
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Private collection



What impassions me most - much, much more than all the rest of my métier - is the portrait, the modern portrait...I do not endeavor to achieve...a photographic resemblance, but by means of our impassioned expressions - that is to say, using our knowledge of and our modern taste for color as a means of arriving at the expressions and intensification of the character.

Van Gogh wrote these words as he worked to complete the Portrait of Dr. Gachet. His passion for portraying the subject's depth of character is clearly evident in this work.

Dr. Gachet, who specialised in mental illness, was Van Gogh's last doctor as well as his last close friend. Gachet was also an art enthusiast who encouraged Van Gogh to paint figures. Van Gogh painted three portraits of his doctor and friend, this version being the most renowned.

In the portrait, the doctor is depicted in a natural and relaxed posture, his head resting against his hand. His pale face is surrounded by vibrant blues that move from deep to lighter tones. The coiling lines of the background, which follow the figure rather than establish their own boundaries, suggest the mood of the subject while creating a fluency in the piece. These restless lines of the background parallel the doctor's hat, shoulders and features, while the recoiling curves of his jacket are mirrored in his closed right hand and in the details of his face. The continuity of the work is furthered by the repetition of white spots in both the subject's collar and sleeve and eyes and lips.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet is an intensely probing work which expresses the subject's sensitivity and discouragement. The doctor's personal qualities mirror those of Van Gogh; the painting communicates the artist's own sadness, despair and inner struggle.

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