Engraving by Dr. Gachet (portrait of J. F. Millet)
Portrait of J. F. Millet
Gift of Decherd Turner
Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828–1909), homeopathic physician in Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise, was an advocate for the ethical treatment of mental illness at a time when endless confinement, phlebotomy, and purgation were seen by many to be effective options. As a medical student at the Université de Paris, later at Montpelier, and through duty in the mental hospitals Bicêtre and Pitié-Salpêtrière, Gachet still maintained a zeal for art that had germinated during his youth. He drew, learned printmaking, and collected works by contemporary French artists. Following the acceptance of his dissertation, a study on melancholy, and confirmation of his medical degree in 1858 Gachet set up his practice. He married Blanche Elisabeth Castets two years before the outbreak of the Prussian War during which he served as a frontline doctor. In 1872 he resumed his life, but his marriage was short-lived. Blanche succumbed to illness and died in 1874. Never overcoming it, he found the pangs of grief assuaged by his appreciation for contemporary art. He supported and befriended several Impressionist and Post-impressionist painters. Camille Pissarro recommended Gachet to Theo Van Gogh who was seeking a restorative refuge for his brother Vincent due to leave the asylum of St. Remy in 1890. Vincent spent the final two months of his life under Gachet’s care in Auvers enjoying his friendship, and painting portraits of the doctor and his daughter. Vincent also struck the only print of his career under Gachet’s guidance, an engraved copperplate portrait of Gachet. Dr. Gachet attended Van Gogh as he died in his room at the Auberge Ravoux, and spoke, albeit haltingly and close to tears, at his funeral. Among the still lifes, portraits, landscapes by Gachet are drawings of Vincent on his deathbed. Gachet probably engraved this portrait of J. F. Millet while a student in Paris.
Jean-François Millet (1814–1875) emerged as a painter of the Barbizon School, responding to the idealism of the Romantic Movement with landscapes painted from nature. Millet’s presentation of workers within the scene takes on a spirit of social realism that was an early quest for Van Gogh. The Gleaners and The Angelus, both now in the collection of the Musée d'Orsay, have become frequently copied and revered icons.