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Press release


May 25 - August 15, 1999

Some 50 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and drawings that have never before been lent from the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, are the centerpiece of an exhibition devoted to the extraordinary art collection formed by Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909), the physician who cared for Vincent van Gogh in the months prior to his suicide in 1890, and who was immortalized in several renowned portraits by the artist. The exhibition, which features more than 130 works in all, includes an additional 40 paintings and works on paper from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and other collections in Europe and America that also once belonged to the legendary Dr. Gachet, who was both friend and patron to the artists — Monet, Pissarro, Guillaumin, Renoir, Sisley, and above all, Cézanne and Van Gogh — whose works he collected.

On view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art May 25 through August 15, Cézanne to Van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet offers a unique overview of this fascinating assemblage, including major examples of these artists' work, copies made after them by Gachet and other amateur artists in his circle, and an interesting array of souvenirs, such as artists' palettes, tubes of paint, and various props, that record Gachet's close relationship with these 19th-century masters. The exhibition also offers a detailed look not only at Dr. Gachet, but also his son and heir, Paul Gachet fils (1873-1962), who, following his father's death, kept the collection virtually hidden from sight in the family house in Auvers for more than half a century — frustrating art historians and, given the Gachets' practice of copying, raising questions about the authenticity of several key works — before donating a major portion of the collection to the French state over a period of years beginning in 1949.

The exhibition is made possible in part by Metropolitan Life Foundation.

Additional support for the exhibition and its accompanying publication has been provided by Janice Levin.

An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Réunion des musées nationaux/Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

"The Metropolitan is delighted to present this intriguing exhibition, which will provide our visitors with an extraordinary opportunity to view such treasures as Monet's Chrysanthemums, Cézanne's Dr. Gachet's House at Auvers, and Van Gogh's Self-Portrait in such a richly detailed context," Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented on the exhibition. "We are grateful to our colleagues at the Musée d'Orsay for sharing this collection with an international audience and for allowing us to exhibit the works in an unflinching manner that may invite a critical discussion of attribution.

"Like the Metropolitan's recent surveys focusing on aspects of its own collection — Van Eyck to Bruegel, Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt, and AGoya in The Metropolitan Museum of Art — this exhibition engages the public in a thought-provoking dialogue about masterpiece and copy, and the often vexing questions of authenticity. At the same time, it provides, like The Private Collection of Edgar Degas and Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection, an intimate glimpse at a private collection formed at the turn of the century by an individual who was regarded by his contemporaries — including the artists whose works he collected — as 'one of the liveliest and most sympathetically original of men.'"

About Doctor Gachet
Paul-Ferdinand Gachet maintained a medical practice in Paris, however, he spent most of his time at his country house in Auvers-sur-Oise, some 20 miles from the capital, where he became acquainted with a number of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters who worked in the area, including C#&233;zanne, Pissarro, and Guillaumin. The house was filled with works of art, most of which were tokens of friendship and souvenirs of artistic interchange, as well as assorted antiques, a printing press, and an infamous menagerie of animals. Here, Céézanne made a series of still-lifes based on vases and other objects in the Gachet household; Pissarro, working nearby in Pontoise, painted landscape motifs drawn from the environs; and several artists — among them Amand Gautier, Norbert Goeneutte, and Van Gogh — painted portraits of Dr. Gachet.

Though he was a physician by profession, Gachet — a fascinating, multifaceted, and eccentric individual — was also an artist in his own right under the pseudonym Paul van Ryssel ("Paul of Lille"), a name he adopted from the Flemish name for his hometown. His son Paul Gachet fils became an artist as well, adapting the name Louis van Ryssel. The artistic efforts of father and son extended from Dr. Gachet's avant-garde etchings and prints to the canvases they painted in an Impressionist idiom, and the copies both made after pictures that they owned by Cézanne, Pissarro, Van Gogh, and others.

Exhibition Highlights
Cézanne to Van Gogh marks the first time since a 1954-55 Paris exhibition commemorating the gift by Paul Gachet fils that an exhibition has focused on the collection and the first time ever that the Gachets' artistic endeavors have been presented alongside the work of the masters they copied. The exhibition features nearly 60 paintings, including approximately ten works each by Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Guillaumin, with a representative selection of paintings by Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and the Gachets themselves. Adding further context to this presentation, the various artists' "souvenirs" — vases that appear in Cézanne's still lifes and Van Gogh's flower paintings, the white visor cap that Dr. Gachet wears in Van Gogh's celebrated oil portrait and the copper plate used for the artist's etched portrait of Dr. Gachet, as well as other related objects — are displayed adjacent to the works of art.

Highlights of the paintings in the exhibition include Cézanne's A Modern Olympia (1873-74) and Guillaumin's Sunset at Ivry (ca. 1872-73), which Dr. Gachet lent to the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Other paintings by Cézanne include Green Apples (ca. 1872-73), Dr. Gachet's House at Auvers (1872-73), and Bouquet in a Small Delft Vase (1873); the Delft vase depicted is among the souvenirs on view. Pissarro is represented by several exceptional canvases, including Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes (c. 1871-72), which Van Gogh admired and described in a letter to his brother Theo, and Road at Louveciennes (1872). Guillaumin's Reclining Nude (ca. 1872-77) also caught the attention of Van Gogh when he visited Dr. Gachet's house. Van Gogh's own works on view include the famous Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890), and well as his haunting Self-Portrait (1889), one of the last made before his suicide. Of his landscapes in the exhibition, the intimate view of Dr. Gachet's Garden (1890), with its profusion of riotous flora, contrasts markedly with the expansive vista of Thatched Huts at Cordeville, Auvers (1890), yet both reveal Van Gogh's characteristically exuberant brushwork and brilliant palette.

Among the paintings by Dr. Gachet are the still-life Apples, a copy after Cézanne's A Modern Olympia, and a copy after Pissarro's Study at Louveciennes, Snow, a work that Gachet never owned, but had borrowed from Pissarro for the purpose of copying. An indication of the degree to which Dr. Gachet's house was a vortex of artistic interchange is revealed not only in the copies that amateurs such as the Gachets made of the artists' paintings, but in the copies that the artists themselves made of each other's works. The exhibition includes Cézanne's etching, Sailboats on the Seine at Bercy (after Guillaumin) as well as his still-life painting Bouquet with Yellow Dahlia (1873), which incorporates the same tablecloth and similar motifs found in a Guillaumin still-life that was also painted in Gachet's house at around the same time. Van Gogh's painting Cows (after Van Ryssel and Jordaens) is an oil copy of a Gachet etching of a Jordaens oil. Continuing this tradition, Paul Gachet fils, painting as Louis van Ryssel, was also inspired by the works in his father's collection, making oil and watercolor copies of many paintings. In other works, he adopted the style and palette of Van Gogh to paint works of his own conception, including a portrait of Van Gogh's mother, which the younger Gachet presented to Vincent's nephew (also named Vincent van Gogh) in 1905.

Among the more than 50 works on paper are drawings by the masters and the Gachets and other amateurs, about 25 watercolor copies of paintings, and a selection of prints made in Dr. Gachet's attic studio by Cézanne, Pissarro, Van Gogh, and the Gachets. The only etchings ever created by Cézanne and Van Gogh were made in Dr. Gachet's house, and the exhibition includes impressions of all five prints by Céézanne and the sole etching of Van Gogh's career — Portrait of Dr. Gachet (The Man with a Pipe) — shown in four differently colored prints in addition to the original copper plate. Another rarely exhibited treasure, Van Gogh's sketchbook from his Auvers period, is also featured in the exhibition.

The watercolors on view include a selection of works copied from Van Gogh's oil paintings in the Gachet collection that were made by Blanche Derousse (1873-1911), a local seamstress, amateur artist, and friend of the Gachet family in Auvers. Originally intended to illustrate a never-realized catalogue of Dr. Gachet's collection of Van Gogh canvases, these intimately scaled works offer an enlightening overview of the scope and quality of the works once owned by Dr. Gachet, before they were dispersed through sales and donations made by his son.

Perhaps the most poignant example in the exhibition of the bond between Dr. Gachet and Van Gogh is Gachet's charcoal portrait of the artist on his deathbed. Further testament of the high esteem in which artist and doctor held one another is a letter from Vincent to his brother Theo, describing Dr. Gachet and his new surroundings in Auvers. Two letters sent by Dr. Gachet to Theo include the urgent note that Vincent had shot himself and imploring Theo to come to Auvers. The second letter, written after Vincent's death, in which Dr. Gachet characterizes the artist as a "giant" and a "philosopher" and writes of his profound appreciation for Van Gogh's paintings, has only recently been rediscovered after being lost for decades. Several photographs of the Gachet household, detailing how the collection was displayed during their lifetimes, are also on view.

During those decades in which the works were sequestered in the Gachet house — most had never been photographed or exhibited prior to their donation — speculation swirled around the collection, the Gachets' intentions for its disposition, and the veracity of the younger Paul Gachet's accounts of the family's interaction with these now-celebrated artists. The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to compare great paintings by Cézanne and Van Gogh with copies made by the Gachets and others in their circle and to reassess, in light of new technical and documentary findings, those works — such as the Orsay version of Portrait of Dr. Gachet — that have been the subject of particular controversy. Most of the copies have never before been exhibited and visitors to the exhibition can evaluate for themselves whether either Gachet had the impetus or, more importantly, the artistic ability to convincingly fake the work of the masters.

The exhibition is co-organized by Susan Alyson Stein, Associate Curator of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Anne Distel, Chief Curator, Musée d'Orsay. Andreas Blühm, Head of Exhibitions, and Sjraar van Heugten, Curator of Drawings and Prints, both of the Van Gogh Museum, are responsible for coordinating the exhibition in Amsterdam.

The fully illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition addresses these issues and others in historical and technical essays and entries that include a wealth of information that has newly come to light. The catalogue, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also documents the contents and history of the entire Gachet collection — beyond what was donated to the French state — in essays, as well as a checklist of artists and works in the collection, a summary catalogue of approximately 150 works, and an illustrated checklist of copies. Featuring 500 illustrations, including 117 in color, the 328-page catalogue is available in the Museum shops in both hardcover ($60) and paperback ($45). It is distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.

Travel Information
Cézanne to Van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet premiered at the Grand Palais, Paris (January 30 through April 26, 1999), and, following the Metropolitan's presentation, will be on view at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (September 24 through December 5, 1999).

In conjunction with the exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has organized a wide variety of educational events, including orientation lectures, a documentary film program, and a special program for high school students. Two lectures — on the Gachet collection and on early collectors of Van Gogh's paintings — by noted scholars of 19th-century art have also been scheduled. In addition, a special audio tour of the exhibition is available for rental at the entrance to the exhibition.

May 12, 1999

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