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Paul (Dr Paul) Gachet

 (1828 - 1909)
Paul (Dr. Paul) Gachet was active/lived in France.  Paul Gachet is known for amateur artist, collector, art patron.

Paul (Dr. Paul) Gachet

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Paul (Dr. Paul) Gachet
The following text related to a 1999 exhibition and is a Reprint From The Art Newspaper,

Fakes controversies
Cézanne joins Van Gogh for close scrutiny

The current exhibition at the Grand Palais gives the Musée d'Orsay's verdict on its own questioned Van Goghs and draws attention to problems with other Van Goghs and Cézannes from the Gachet Collection.

LONDON. Dr. Paul Gachet, friend and patron of the Post-Impressionists, has long been an enigmatic figure. Some critics argue that he exploited Cézanne and Van Gogh, and even forged their work. They claim that among Gachet donations to French museums are several fakes, most notably, one of the two versions of Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet. During the past two years thee has been a growing controversy over the question of fake Van Goghs, including works owned by Dr Gachet, an amateur artist. These claims have been the subject of a series of major investigations by The Art Newspaper.

Amid mounting concern, the Musée d'Orsay courageously decided to tackle the problem. "Organising an exhibition with works which have seldom been shown in recent years, and therefore little studied, seemed the best way to help the public understand the terms of the controversy," said curator Anne Distel.

"Un ami de Cézanne et de Van Gogh: le docteur Gachet", co-curated with Susan Stein from the Metropolitan, is at the Grand Palais until 26 April. The exhibition then travels to New York's Metropolitan Museum (25 May-15 August) and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (24 September-5 December).

Although originally planned just for Paris, the New York and Amsterdam museums were keen to participate because so few paintings from the Gachet donation have ever been shown outside France. On loan will be eight Cézannes and eight Van Gogh's (including the magnificent self-portrait once owned by Dr Gachet), plus works by Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley.

Also included in the exhibition are memorabilia preserved by Dr Gachet: the palettes of Cézanne and Van Gogh, vases which the two masters depicted in their still lifes, Japanese prints found in Van Gogh's garret room in the Auberge Ravoux, and even the cap which Dr Gachet wore in the pair of portraits by Van Gogh. Particularly poignant are five rarely exhibited pictures by Dr Gachet of Van Gogh on this deathbed.

Another exhibit is a landscape painting done in 1904 by Dr Gachet's son, Paul Gachet fils, captioned De l'endroit où Vincent s'est suicidé. This work could resolve the puzzle of the location where Van Gogh actually shot himself: it does not depict the legendary wheatfield, but a small farm track behind the Château d'Auvers.

Also on show is a recently discovered letter from Dr Gachet to Theo van Gogh, dated 27 July 1890: "Today, Sunday, at nine o'clock in the evening I was sent for by your brother Vincent, who wanted to see me at once. I went there and found him very ill. He has wounded himself . . . it is your duty to come." But although the exhibition provides an insight into Dr Gachet and his avant-garde friends, more visitors seem far more interested in what the show says about the fakes scandal.

Master faker? It was the mysterious appearance of the Gachet collection nearly fifty years ago which led to the first accusation of fakery. The two children of the doctor, Paul Gachet fils and his sister Marguerite, were reclusive, and they became increasingly reluctant to show art historians the treasures which had been collected by their father. They refused to allow the paintings to the photographed and rarely lent to exhibitions.

Until a series of donations to French museums in 1949-54, many of their greatest masterpieces remained virtually unknown. When the Gachet donations were assembled in 1954 for a spectacular exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie critic Louis Anfray immediately raised questions of authenticity. He pointed out that both Dr Gachet and his son were both amateur artists, so they could have made fakes and included them among the authentic works. These claims were also fuelled by the sheer number of paintings which had apparently survived from Van Gogh's seventy days in Auvers: around eighty pictures, a production of more than one a day.

Doubts about the Gachet pictures were recently re-ignited when scholar Jan Hulsker published the revised edition of his The New Complete Van Gogh, which questioned three pictures (Asylum garden at St Paul's Hospital, Portrait of Dr Gachet and The cows). Detailed evidence was presented by independent research Benoît Landais in the magazine Connaissance des Arts in September 1997.

Although the recent fakes controversy has focused on Van Gogh, the authenticity of many of Dr Gachet's Cézannes is also questioned in the recent catalogue raisonné. Based on the work of the late John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne was completed by Walter Feilchenfeldt and Jayne Warman. In his introductory essay, Zurich scholar and dealer Feilchenfeldt explained that a number of works from the Gachet collection although included in the catalogue are "in need of further investigation".

Revelations at the Grand Palais
For the exhibition, Dr Gachet's Van Goghs and Cézannes in French museums were all subjected to a detailed technical examination by the Laboratoire de recherche des musées de France, based in the Louvre. In the case of the Van Goghs, it was found that the artist had used similar rough canvas for all his Auvers pictures (except for Church at Auvers, an unquestioned masterpiece). X-rays reveal that Van Gogh painted with "a rapidity of execution and a lack of hesitation". The investigation concluded that all the Van Goghs donated by Dr Gachet are authentic.

One point of particular interest which emerged was that some of Van Gogh's cheap pigments have faded. For instance, the purple foxglove flowers in the Musée d'Orsay's Portrait of Dr Gachet were originally painted with red lake and ultramarine, but the red has faded , leaving the flowers unnaturally bluish. This colour change is confirmed by the existence of an excellently preserved watercolour copy of the portrait done by Dr Gachet's friend Blanche Derousse in 1901, which depicts purple flowers. Although the other version of the Portrait of Dr Gachet sold to Japan in 1990 was not examined, photographs show that it too appears to have suffered a similar colour change—further evidence of the authenticity of the Orsay picture.

The Cézannes in the Gachet donation were also studied, and again the evidence suggests that they are authentic. One particular example was particularly telling. Dr Gachet made an oil copy of one of the Cézannes, A modern Olympia, and this offered an opportunity to make a direct comparison of the techniques of the two artists. While Cézanne worked quickly and confidently, Dr Gachet's copy is laboured.

After examining other works and copies by Dr Gachet (who painted under the pseudonym Paul Van Ryssel) and his son (who painted as Louis Van Ryssel) it was concluded that neither was a sufficiently competent artist to convincingly fake the work of Van Gogh or Cézanne. When the Gachets made copies, they first drew the outlines and then filled in the colours, almost like a child painting by numbers. The same could be said of copies made by two friends of the family, Blanche Derousse and Théophile Elémore Bigny, who made small watercolour copies as records of the originals. Anne Distel concludes that she has "no doubts about the authenticity" of the Van Goghs and Cézannes donated to the French museum.

Remaining questions about Cézanne and Van Gogh
But even if one accepts the paintings donated to the French museums as authentic, doubts have been raised about certain works which were quietly sold off by Gachet fils. At the back of the Grand Palais catalogue—and so far virtually ignored by the critics—there is considerable information about other Van Goghs and Cézannes which scholars have questioned.

Written by Susan Stein, this section is based on one of the major discoveries made by the exhibition organisers: a five-volume typescript catalogue of the collection, compiled by Gachet fils in 1928. Previously unknown to scholars, this key document is now owned by the Wildenstein Institute in Paris. This shows, for instance, that the Art Institute of Chicago's Panoramic View of Auvers (R221) originally belonged to Dr Gachet. Working from the Gachet fils typescript, Ms. Stein has provided in-depth scholarly references for the entire collection. Although open about citing cases where authenticity has been questioned, the dispersed pictures do not form part of the Grand Palais exhibition and she does not wish to make judgements on them. "What we have tried to do is provide solid factual information as the basis for further serious study," Stein explained.

The Gachet fils catalogue records twenty-six paintings by Van Gogh (plus eighteen drawings), twenty-six by Cézanne (plus seventeen watercolours and drawings), twelve by Pissarro (including a lost 1872 picture of St Stephen's Church in Norwood, South London), as well as Monets, Renoirs, etc.

This catalogue confirms that although Gachet fils donated fifteen of the finest Van Goghs and Cézannes to French museums, he sold off a much larger number. Indeed Gachet fils and his sister apparently never earned a living, but raised money by selling works collected by their father.

Out of Dr Gachet's twenty-six Van Goghs, the authenticity of six has been questioned. Of the six, three are in the show and have now been authenticated. This leaves three others: one in the Van Gogh Museum which is expected to be examined shortly and two elsewhere (in a private collection and in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm).

Out of Dr Gachet's twenty-six Cézannes, eleven are questioned by Feilchenfeldt (to varying degrees) in the recent Rewald catalogue. Other experts such as Professor Theodore Reff of Columbia University, do not accept all of Feilchenfeldt's doubts. Two of the questioned works are in French museums; one was downgraded some years ago and the other has now been authenticated. There are nine elsewhere, all in private collections, except for one in the Fogg Art Museum.

Our analysis therefore reveals that no fewer than seventeen of Gachet's fifty-four Van Goghs and Cézannes have been questioned. Most of the questioned works which were sold by Gachets fils have subsequently passed through the international auction houses.
Gachet fils donated fifteen Van Goghs and Cézannes to French museums (including "Church at Auvers", sold for half its market value), but he sold the remaining thirty-eight, mostly to Wildeenstein.

Cynics might argue that had Gachet fils wished to sell fakes, he would have presented the finest paintings to French museums and mixed fakes among the lesser works which he sold. Others would say that this is an unfair judgement, and with such a large collection, Gachets fils had relatively little to gain from selling some extra fakes in his old age. Ms Stein accepts that a few of the Van Goghs and Cézannes outside French museums may turn out not to be authentic, but if so, Gachet fils had confused works by his father's other artist friends, "I do not believe there was deliberate deceit, but because the knowledge of Gachet fils about his father's collection was limited, there is always the possibility of misattribution," Stein commented.

The debate looks set to continue when the Gachet show opens in New York. Metropolitan director Philippe de Montebello promises that the exhibition will confront the issues: "it will engage the public in a thought-provoking dialogue about masterpiece and copy, and the other vexing issues of authenticity."

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Paul (Dr. Paul) Gachet
Dr Paul Gachet (1828-1909) was the most extraordinary of the early patrons of the Post-Impressionists. Born in Lille in 1828, he studied medicine and specialised in the problems of melancholia. In 1858 he moved to Paris to practice as a doctor, and soon developed a reputation for offering alternative remedies. Although continuing to work in the capital, in 1872 he bought a house in Auvers-sur-Oise, twenty-five kilometres to the north. The rolling landscape around the village had proved an attraction to painters, and Dr Gachet soon got to know Daubigny, Guillaumin, Pissarro, all of whom painted there. Most importantly, he became friends with Cézanne, who stayed in Auvers in 1872-74. Dr Gachet began to collect the work of the avant-garde and he was inspired to become an amateur artist.

It was Pissarro who later suggested that Van Gogh should come to Auvers, pointing out that Dr Gachet, then sixty-one, could keep a friendly eye on his health. And so, on 20 May 1890, after leaving the asylum at St-Rémy, Van Gogh moved into the Auberge Ravoux. Van Gogh immediately became a regular visitor to the house, where the widowed doctor lived with his sixteen-year-old son Paul and twenty-year-old daughter Marguerite.

Often eating with the family, Van Gogh also painted in their house and garden. Tragedy came only too quickly, and after Van Gogh shot himself on 27 July 1890 it was Dr Gachet who treated this wound during the final days of his life.

After Dr Gachet's death in 1909, his art collection then passed to his two children. Paul (and his wife) and Marguerite continued to live in their father's house, but they became increasingly reclusive as the years went by. Eventually, the Gachets made a spectacular series of donations to French museums, primarily the Louvre.

In 1949 Paul and Marguerite offered two Van Gogh masterpieces: the powerful self-portrait with the swirling background done in St-Rémy and the second version of the portrait of Dr Gachet, as well as self-portrait by Guillaumin. Marguerite later died that year.

In 1951 Paul Gachet fils made a further gift to the Louvre. This included three paintings by Cézanne, two each by Pissarro and Guillaumin, and one each by Monet, Renoir, Sisley and the Puerto Rican artist Francisco Oller. Another Van Gogh masterpiece, The church at Auvers, was sold to the Louvre for 8 million old francs, half its market value, Paul Gachet fils also donated Van Gogh's oil version of The cows by Jacob Jordaens to Lille's Palais des Beaux-Arts, which owns the original Jordaens.

In 1954 Paul Gachet fils made his final major donation in French museums: four paintings by Cézanne, three by Guillaumin, a Pissarro, an oil sketch attributed to Constantin Guys, and five more Van Goghs: Marguerite Gachet in the garden, In the garden of Dr Gachet, Cottages at Cordeville, Two girls and Roses and anemones.

Gachet fils died in 1962, making him one of the last people to have known Van Gogh.

"Vincent," Reprint from The Art Newspaper, March 1999, pp. 10-12,

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About  Paul (Dr. Paul) Gachet

Born:  1828 - Lille, France
Died:   1909 - France
Known for:  amateur artist, collector, art patron