Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Poignant Remembrance

Today begins Master Drawings Week in London galleries and auction houses, and among the artworks for sale by dealer Emanuel von Baeyer is this etching by Dr. Paul Gachet (under the pseudonym Paul van Ryssel), showing Vincent on his deathbed. The etching was inspired by an original charcoal sketch done by Dr. Gachet at Vincent's bedside; the date on the drawing is July 29 [1890], but it's not clear whether it was done before Vincent passed away at 1:30 am that morning, or after. The drawing today belongs to the Musée d'Orsay, a gift to the French state from Dr. Gachet's son Paul. Another drawing, however, is in the Van Gogh Museum--Dr. Gachet made a copy as a gift to Theo, inscribing it "à mon ami Theo." In a letter of 12 August 1890, Theo told the doctor, "I must also tell you that it gave my mother immense pleasure to see the drawing you have made of our dear Vincent. A number of people have seen and admired it." Gachet exhibited his original drawing at the 1891 Salon des Indépendants in Paris; artist Paul Signac organized a memorial display of ten van Gogh paintings at the same Salon. Later Gachet made a painting after his drawing and gave it to Johanna van Gogh-Bonger in 1905 (it's now in the Van Gogh Museum collection). Gachet also made an etching after the drawing--you can still see his etching press at the house in Auvers-sur-Oise--and both he and his son made prints which they gave to friends and visitors. The etching has almost a halo effect compared to the drawings. I had the opportunity to see the drawing Gachet gave Theo at the Van Gogh Museum last year (it's not always on display, but it was for the focus-show "Van Gogh and Friends"), and it is difficult not to be moved by it.

For more information, see A. Distel and S. A. Stein, eds., "Cézanne to Van Gogh: The Collection of Dr. Gachet" (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999) pp. 140–41 for Gachet's drawings and etchings, and p. 266 for Theo's letter, quoted above.

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