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Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a Van Gogh Masterpiece, Money, Politics, Collectors, Greed, and Loss Paperback – April 1, 1999
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Only a few weeks before his 1890 suicide, Vincent van Gogh painted a portrait of Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, a local physician the painter had been fruitlessly consulting about his depression. Upon his death, the painting, like much of van Gogh's work, went to his brother, Theo. A few years later, Theo's widow sold it for 300 francs (worth, then, $58). In 1990, a wealthy Japanese businessman paid $82.5 million at a Christie's auction for it and promptly hid it away in a Tokyo warehouse, where it presumably remains to this day.
Cynthia Saltzman traces the painting's provenance through a century of art collecting and cultural politics. Along the way, the portrait passes through--among others--the hands of early modernist collectors, the Nazi regime (where it was shown as part of an exhibit of "degenerate" art), and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to a detailed account of the circumstances of each change of possession (it slipped out of the Nazis' hands, for example, when Herman Goerring needed a quick transfusion of hard currency), Saltzman provides a sensitive appraisal of the changing critical reputation of van Gogh and of the fluctuating market for "masterpieces" on canvas. Portrait of Dr. Gachet is an art history which never loses sight of the fact that art history is always a subset of a larger history. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Saltzman's meticulously researched narrative shows how historical forces and turning points in individual lives have determined the fate of a celebrated painting. The story begins in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where a disturbed Vincent van Gogh churned out his last work before his suicide in 1890. Physician Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, a melancholic amateur painter, did little to alleviate van Gogh's suffering, but he posed for the portrait that captured, in van Gogh's own words, "the heartbroken expression of our time." Over the next century, the painting had 13 owners; it was hung in private homes and world-famous museums, and traveled to Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and New York. Confiscated as "degenerate art" by the Nazis and smuggled out of Germany during WWII, it was on loan off and on for 50 years to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, before fetching $82.5 million at auction. Since the death of its last owner, a Japanese paper magnate, its whereabouts are unknown, and the art world waits for the masterpiece to resurface. Meanwhile, though this book's detail about art dealers and collectors may be more than the casual reader wishes to know, the capsule biography of van Gogh, the criminality of Nazi art thieves and the fevered May 15, 1990, art auction at Christie's provide gripping real-life drama. In all, Saltzman (a former reporter for Forbes and the Wall Street Journal) offers an illuminating case study of provenance. Eight pages of b&w illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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and the s act of his suicide.
Ms. Cynthia Saltzman has written a scholarly work that is readable by anyone who enjoys well-written history, or even a novel. The course this painting has taken in a bit more than 110 years is as extraordinary as the price paid when it was last sold.
Vincent Van Gogh was a troubled man who managed to produce a rather large body or work before tragically taking his own life. There are dozens of speculations as to the manner of disease he suffered, but suffer he did. Van Gogh did not live to see any appreciation of his art, and even for years after his death his work was not of any renown nor sought after. This final portrait that he was to paint did not sell for 7 years after his death, and even then the purchase price was $58 in US currency.
Over the next 14 years the painting would again change hands 4 more times, and with the last of the 4 sales became a museum piece for the first time. The locale was Frankfurt, the year 1911, and the price $3861. It was this last move that was to place this painting and hundreds of others into a collection of Art deemed "degenerate" by the Nazis of Hitler's Germany. The piece also was in the possession of Herman Goering briefly. Fortunately for the painting it was sold outside of Germany, where a new owner would hold it for the next 52 years. The Germans may have thought it degenerate for propaganda purposes, but money was another matter. While the painting was confiscated, when sold in 1938 the passing 17 years brought the value to $20,000.
Until the next and final sale the painting would be hung in a home in New York City, the property of private collectors. When the "crazy years" of the art market arrived impressionist work was in great demand, much of which was generated from Japan. For in 1995 Mr. Saito paid $82.5 million, and then 2 days later another $78.5 million was spent by the same man on a Renoir. What has happened since then really has to be read as it would make a great novel were it fiction.
Ms. Saltzman has done an amazing job of documentary work, and added the history of the times surrounding the work, as well as those who sought the piece, and the personalities of those who came in contact with, or were the temporary custodians of the work, "The Gachet".
A wonderful read for anyone who enjoys a good story written with consummate skill and style.
This is a book I heartily recommend, and so far, everyone I've leant it to or purchased it for has loved it just as much as I have.