In Dr. Paul Gachet's drawing of "Van Gogh on his deathbed", Vincent is shown clean shaven without a beard and mustache. In the 37 Van Gogh self-portraits only 3 show Vincent as clean shaven (F 527, JH 1657, F 529, JH 1658 and F 525, JH 1665). His last 3 self-portraits (F 626, JH 1770, F 627, JH 1772 and F 528, JH 1780) have Van Gogh shown with a beard and mustache. Is there an inconsistency here or was Van Gogh shaved during embalming?
Van Gogh scholar, Dr. Jan Hulsker, author of The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches comments . . . . . .
For the question of Van Gogh shown clean-shaven on the drawing on his death-bed I can tell you only this. It seems impossible to find out in the documents if Vincent had a beard when he was in Auvers, or not. Don't be mistaken about the so-called "last" self-portrait: JH 1780, F 528. It probably is a fake, and in any case: there is no way to find out exactly [when] it was painted, fake or not.
What is certain, is that there were periods when Vincent did not have a beard. He wrote himself that it was shaved off in the summer of 1888 (see his letter to Wil, W 4). Therefore it is practically impossible that and JH 1665, F 525, showing a full dark beard was painted in that summer. If it is not a fake, it might have been painted in Paris, as Bogomila Welsh (and others) believe.
In January 1889 his beard was again shaved off in the hospital after the incident in Arles (see the paintings with bandaged ear). In the self-portrait which--according to my research--was painted immediately thereafter, his beard was still shaved off.
When he did the self-portraits 1770 and 1772, he certainly had a beard (September, 1889); in my view these are the last self-portraits we know. As I said, the rest is silence as far as the beard is concerned. Do you have my book Vincent and Theo van Gogh -- A Dual Biography? It is a useful source of biographical details, and I think, one of the most reliable ones, at least up to 1990.
In addition, there are two practically identical drawings of the subject by P. van Rijssel (that is the name Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet used as a painter); he was born in the Belgian town Rijssel (Lille in French).
One is in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
charcoal on paper, 27.3 x 22.8 cm. Annotated:
A mon ami Theo van Gogh
29 juillet P. Gachet
The other one was given by Paul Gachet (Jr.) to the Louvre in 1952; now in the Musée d'Orsay. This is also in charcoal on paper (dimensions unknown by me).
This one is annotated: 29 juillet 90 V. Van Gogh and signed with Van Rijssel's initials in this form .
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