doctor’s orders

Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet captures the resignation and despair that characterized his last physician. Gachet touches a sprig of foxglove- a medicinal herb symbolic of his profession- and stares with devastating pathos into the void. The doctor’s torment awakened his patient’s compassion, but Gachet, through his negligence, may have caused Van Gogh’s death.

---While the painting rested in its hiding place, Saito struggled, financially and otherwise. In 1993, he was charged with trying to bribe officials to allow the development of a golf course, which, ironically, was to be named Vincent. Wheelchairbound and broke, Saito pleaded guilty and received a three-year suspended sentence. During this time, he scandalized the art world by stating that he wanted van Gogh's masterpiece cremated and buried with him upon his death–though he later said he was joking. No one was laughing, however, after his death in 1996. It wasn't clear who owned Gachet–Saito's heirs, his company, or his creditors–or even where it was. Museum curators and auction houses tried to locate it. But while representatives of Saito's company assured the world that it was still around, a veil of secrecy shrouded all future transactions. Gachet simply seemed to vanish into the murky waters of the international art market. ---Read More:

…Whereas modern art consisted of revolutionary experiments motivated by a desire to express aspects of the newly-discovered “unconscious mind,” Kuspit argues, postart is shallow, unreflective banality motivated by the desire to become institutionalized; that is, part of the mainstream (along with the commercial reward that such co-opted acceptability brings). In this regard, the messianic zeal with which Van Gogh approached his work represents an ideal because it demonstrates the kind of authentic and individualistic commitment to artistic expression that today’s commercialized postartists lack. The crucifixion has become a cabaret….

Kuspit points out that it was to a very different kind of institution – the psychiatric ward – that modern artists were drawn. In an attempt to understand how the unconscious and madness can affect the creative process, modern artists turned their attention to the artworks of psychiatric patients. Modern art went on to find its greatest glories in the dark and mysterious world of the human unconscious. This is the anti-Allegory of the Cave, an emergence into night. Read More:


I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it. . . . Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done. . . . There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later. VINCENT VAN GOGH, JUNE 1890

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