Leaving Van Gogh
Spiegel & Grau, Apr 19 2011, $25.00
In 1890, Vincent van Gogh moves to Auvers-sur-Oise, France to paint in the serene rustic environment. His brother Theo asks mental health specialist Dr. Paul Gachet, known for his artistic inclinations, to keep a close watch on his troubled sibling. As a patron of the fine arts, Gachet agrees. The physician finds the artist’s work incredible, but fears for the anguished man. He tries to comfort the tormented van Gogh and prepare Vincent’s family for the seemingly inevitable as the illnesses that torture van Gogh’s mind continue to grow. Ten weeks after the doctor was retained, his only patient committed suicide.
This is an intriguing biographical fiction that looks at van Gogh through the filter of the real doctor (van Gogh did a portrait of Gachet) who treated him in the months of his life. That perspective allows a fresh view, but also adds a degree of separation from the artist. Still this is a strong historical as Carol Wallace paints a vivid picture of medical profession at the end of the nineteenth century as the doctor struggles to help a difficult talented artist with a strange illness.