Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a Van Gogh Masterpiece, Money, Politics, Collectors, Greed, and Loss

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Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a Van Gogh Masterpiece, Money, Politics, Collectors, Greed, and Loss
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About the Author: 

A former reporter for Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, Cynthia Saltzman earned degrees in art history at Harvard and Berkeley. She currently resides with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

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At a star-studded auction in 1990, a painting was sold for the record-breaking price of $82.5 million. That painting, Vincent van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet, has seemed to countless admirers to portray our times as "something bright in spite of its inevitable griefs."

This fascinating book reconstructs the painting's journey and becomes a rich story of modernist art and the forces behind the art market. Masterfully evoked are the lives of the thirteen extraordinary people who owned the painting and shaped its history: avant-garde European collectors, pioneering dealers in Paris and Berlin, a brilliant medievalist who acquired it for one of Germany's great museums, and a member of the Nazi elite who sold it after it had been confiscated as a work of "degenerate art." Remarkable and riveting, The Portrait of Dr. Gachet illuminates, in dramatic detail, the dynamics of the art market and of culture in our time.
  • Paperback
  • 406 pages
  • 5" x 1" x 7 3/5"
  • Penguin Books, 1999
  • ISBN-10: 0140254870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140254877 
Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Saltzman, a onetime reporter for Forbes and the Wall Street Journal (and a former Kirkus contributor), chronicles the peripatetic fate of one of van Gogh's last paintings, from his brother Theo's unsellable stock to a record-breaking auction at Christie's in 1990. In papers found after his suicide, van Gogh had written to Gauguin, ``I have a portrait of Dr. Gachet with the heartbroken expression of our time,'' 100 years before its spectacular sale for $82.5 million at the peak of the go-go '80s bubble art market. Saltzman draws the story of van Gogh's reputation and the painting's ownership from a detailed collage of biography, art criticism, history, and current events. Dr. Ferdinand Gachet, the portrait's subject, was an elderly doctor in the isolated village of Auvers who served as van Gogh's last recourse for his undiagnosed mental illness. The painting's itinerary after van Gogh's suicide is almost epic. First it went to his art-dealer brother, Theo, in Paris, then to Theo's widow, who took it to Holland. She had to try several dealers before placing it outside the circle of avant-garde connoisseurs. The portrait found its first institutional owner in Frankfurt's Stadel art museum, purchased by the prescient director Georg Swarzenski, who had to endure its confiscation in 1937 by the Nazi government and its exhibition as ``degenerate art.'' It then fell into the hands of Hermann Goring, who liquidated it for foreign currency in 1938. Eventually passing into the hands of a collector who emigrated to America, it was often displayed in American museums, until a combination of new tax laws and soaring art prices brought it to the auction block. To become the sequestered property of a bankrupt Japanese businessman. An intriguing map of the painting's wanderings, but what this journalistic account fails to convey is insight into the works significance and of the emotional investment of those who tried to save or possess this refugee artwork. (illustrations, not seen)—Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. 


"...a unique and fascinating biography: the biography of a painting ... in telling the story of its many owners and dealers, Ms. Saltzman has succeeded in giving us an understanding of van Gogh's ascendant reputation, the shifting fortunes of modernist art and the headlong expansion of the art market." —The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani


"...explicit, informative and sensible about so many quirks of the culture business. -- The San Francisco Chronicle, Kenneth Baker Saltzman's telling of this tale sometimes bogs down in the data she amasses in over 408 pages of text and notes. Also, sadly, the illustrations are small and in black and white. But the book's detail is more often than not compelling. For anyone interested in art, the art market, and the cultural life of Europe, this is a fascinating book."—Business Week, Thane Peterson


"The intricate connections between and among art, politics, and commerce receive lucid analysis in Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Cynthia Saltzman's striking narrative of the history of a single painting." —The Boston Globe, Robert Taylor—This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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