Dr. Paul Gachet, 1890
Van Gogh made several portraits of his various doctors, including this one of Dr. Paul Gachet, who took care of him during the last months of his life. The sixty-one year old physician was known to be particularly kind and sympathetic to struggling artists, as he himself was an amateur painter. The sitter’s slumped-over pensive pose had been used in art since the Middle Ages to evoke the theme of melancholy, but the portrait’s closely-cropped composition, diagonal emphasis, and bold contrast of electric blue and deep orange are all emphatically modern.
Gachet practiced homeopathic medicine. On the table in front of him we see a stalk of foxglove, a medicinal herb used as a remedy for heart ailments.
With his sad disposition and red hair and beard, we might understandably confuse the doctor for Vincent. Apparently, Gachet suffered from a similarly sensitive and nervous temperament. The artist declared that he wanted this portrait to convey the “desolate expression of our time.”