The house of Van Gogh’s Dr. Gachet
Dr. Gachet’s house was a little further than we thought. In fact it was a good half hour walk from the cemetery, through the town and out the other side. We walked past the Chateau d’Auvers which was built in 1635 for the Italian banker of Marie de Médici. They are trying to take advantage of the various Auvers painters but there are no paintings to be seen – just an audio visual show for a 10 Euro admission fee. We kept walking.
Finally we got to Dr. Gachet’s house. It’s now a state-run museum, a fairly plain house, built up on a hill from the street surrounded by multi-level gardens, with a wonderful view over the town and the adjacent valley. In this house, Dr. Gachet played host not only to Van Gogh, but in earlier years, Cézanne and Pissarro too. Dr. Gachet was quite a collector and both he and his son were artists, of a sort, too. Dr. Gachet painted under the name Paul van Ryssel while his son took on the name Louis Van Ryssel.
Inside the house feels quite cramped. It seems bigger from the outside. Van Gogh came for dinner a number of times (written invitations were sent over) and he was given some of Dr. Gachet’s homeopathic treatments. What did Vincent think of Dr. Gachet? He was quite perceptive in his observations. After having met him the first time, he wrote back to Theo that day,
“I’ve seen Dr. Gachet, who gave me the impression of being rather eccentric, but his doctor’s experience must keep him balanced himself while combating the nervous ailment from which it seems to me he’s certainly suffering at least as seriously as I am.”
Four days later, he mentioned Dr. Gachet again in another letter to Theo,
“I think that we must in no way count on Dr Gachet. In the first place he’s iller than I am, it seemed to me, or let’s say just as much, there you have it. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, do they not both fall into the ditch?”
Gachet’s house was described by Van Gogh as rather dark and gloomy. It was also full of stuff he collected and of course, the ingredients for his various homeopathic treatments.
He painted Dr. Gachet from life once, and made another copy in his room. He also painted Dr. Gachet’s 20-year old daughter Marguerite twice, once at the piano and once outside in the garden. He never did paint his son, Paul, the one who eventually gave much of the collection to the state, so we can now see it at the Musée d’Orsay. This was a very significant collection which became the subject of a show in 1999 that traveled from Paris to Amsterdam to New York.
Like being in his room and the restaurant at the Auberge, being in this house felt strange, knowing that 120 years ago, nearly to the day, Van Gogh visited here, ate here and painted here.
After walking around the house again, taking some pictures, we had seen enough. Walking back to the town, we noticed that one of the houses on the same street as Gachet’s was for sale. It was a beautiful old two-storey stone house, seemingly in great condition, offered at 370,000 Euros. Hmmm. Mentally, we were doing the math.
Finally we reached the train station, and within 15 minutes were back on a train to Paris. It had been a wonderful, and yet, somewhat sad and reflective day in Auvers.