COMMENTS ON THE MEMORIES OF ADELINE RAVOUX
ABOUT THE AUTHORESS. Adeline Ravoux wrote some memories about the stay of Vincent van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oisse. She was thirteen years old when the painter lodged in the pension that her parents had in the mentioned locality. Because of his age, logically she was not present at the more dramatic facts that happened to the suicide of the artist, reason why her memories are constituted by her own experiences, plus the information obtained from her father.
Regarding his own memories, it is necessary to consider that the present relation was made in 1954, when she was seventy seven years old, and 64 years had passed from the facts that she describes.
In order to justify the truthfulness of the information obtained from her father, Adeline emphasizes that he is a trustworthy man and with a prodigious memory, (a gift that she seems to have inherited), and to prove it, she declares that some journalist had investigated all the information that her father had provided on a certain war and that resulted in total confirmation. Also she asserts that her father was no vulgar man and never was called "Père Ravoux", but on the contrary, everybody had great respect for him.
Adeline seems to feel hurt because she was not discovered to be an eyewitness of the facts until 1953, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Vincent van Gogh, and wishes her memories to be kept complete like a trustworthy document of the stay of the painter in Auvers.
Her memories provide little information that was not well-known previously. It gives the impression of being a mixture of memories with the partial reading of Vincent's letters, emphasizing certain antagonism towards Dr. Gachet. Two types of information appear in her writing. A first kind, that can be contrasted with other well-known worthy sources, and another, that comes from a direct personal experience, hers or her father's, without witnesses who can corroborate them.
After the doubts that offers the careful reading of her memories, and in order to evaluate the truthfulness of its content, we start on the base that, if a big portion of the information that can be contrasted is false, erroneous or inexact, all the information coming from direct personal experience that cannot be contrasted must lose its credibility.
Now follows the analysis of some details of doubtful veracity.
ON DR. GACHET.
1) Appearing in the original text in French of his memories in italic letters:
"I had never seen Dr. Gachet at home before the death of Vincent ".
She really had no reason to see him. The doctor was not exerting his profession in Auvers, there were other better establishments where to go to eat or to have a drink, and, finally, Vincent van Gogh was not ill during his stay in Auvers.
Nevertheless a doubt arises before the affirmation of the authoress. Doctor Gachet, according to a note on foot of letter 609, "was a great lover of the art and a collector..."; it is known that he had friendship with other painters before knowing Van Gogh, and that he had paintings of them, bought or given in exchange for his medical services. When he knew Van Gogh, and took care of him like patient, he became interested in his painting. Van Gogh himself, in letter 637, says "I am going to paint to his house on Tuesday, then I will dinner with him, and later he will come to see my paintings". In letter 638, he says: "He always pays attention to these two paintings when he comes to see my studies."
In letter 640, to the Ginoux, exposes: "Two or three times a week he comes to visit me for hours to see what I am doing. In letter 641, he says: "I have made a study of a vineyard that Dr. Gachet liked very much the last time that he came to see me".
It is evident that Dr. Gachet had been in the Ravoux pension, not one, but many times. Adeline does not remember it (bad memory?) or she does not want to remember it (ill-will?), because it is hard to think that she never saw him.
2) Adeline says that Vincent van Gogh, in his letters, does not mention Dr. Gachet between his friendships.
Vincent makes positive references to Dr. Gachet in several letters: 635, 637, 638, 641, 641a, 646... To mention some details, in letter 643, to Gauguin, he talks about him as "my friend", and in letter W22, to his sister, Wil, he says: "I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet... My friend Dr. Gachet..."
It is evident that Adeline did not read Vincent´s letters with sufficient thoroughness, or does not remember them, or she distorts them.
Only in letter 648, the last time that Van Gogh mentions Dr. Gachet, he says: "I believe that we should not count on Dr. Gachet for anything". It is not known the true reason of this complete change in the relation with his doctor and friend.
Journalist Ken Wilkie thinks that there could have been an opposition of Dr. Gachet to a supposed relationship between his daughter and the painter. This letter has been dated by Jan Hulsker on May 23, but because of its content it must be later than 646, of July 2nd, which makes suspect that it could have been written after the 6th of July, when Vincent, after being arguing with his brother Theo, was totally demoralized.
3) In her memories Adeline writes: "I believe that the legend suggesting Vincent was going to have dinner with Dr. Gachet each Sunday or Monday is false, or at least exaggerated, because I have no memory of the repeated absences of Mr. Vincent at lunch time, who used regularly to have it with us. In fact I am persuaded that there was no intimate relation between the doctor and the artist. And that is a subject in which investigators should work."
It is Vincent himself who, in his letter 638 says that Dr. Gachet insisted him to invite to eat all Sundays or Mondays, although he tried to elude the commitment because of the pantagruelic meals that the doctor used to offer.
Like a reference of the relations existing between the doctor and the painter, it may be mentioned that the day that Theo, Jo and their son visited him in Auvers, they spent together and they ate at Dr. Gachet´s. Also in letter 646, Vincent suggests Theo to go to Auvers with his family to spend vacations, and if it were not by the amount of art works he had everywhere, they could lodge at Dr. Gachet´s house, so he suggests him to lodge in a house in front of him. Vincent thinks that Jo and doctor's daughter could be good friends.
Jo, Theo's wife, says in her memories, talking about the going of Vincent towards Auvers: "... he took a presentation letter for Dr. Gachet, whose faithful friendship was going to become his biggest support during the short time that he lived in Auvers".
4) Adeline says that his father, when saw Vincent wounded, sent Tom Hirschig, the painter who lodged in the same pension, to look for the local doctor, and that, being absent, turned to Dr. Gachet. He considered the wound lethal, bandaged it and left immediately. She is completely sure that he did not return that night neither the following day.
This affirmation is extremely odd and improbable. Dr. Gachet is a figure that, after his death, raised many contradictory opinions between his supporters and his detractors, but it is doubtless that, in life, he was a man of recognized prestige by the society of his time, as much as professional and as human being.
He was voluntary physician in the fight against the cholera, decorated in 1870 and 1871 by his self-denial, he passed free consultations to the needy, decorated in 1901 by his services to mankind... his curriculum does not correspond with the indifference that suggests the affirmation of Adeline.
Dr. Gachet had become responsible for the processing of Vincent, by agreement with Pissarro and Theo, and that was the reason why Van Gogh was in Auvers, so he could not pretend not to know of his patient in such a serious situation. It would be a solemn nonsense and irresponsibility on the other hand, even when he would have to give explanations to Theo, whom he had called.
But it seems that the facts took place in a very different way from Adeline's tale. Walter and Metzger, in an appendix of their work, say: "the Ravoux marriage warns the local doctor, Dr. Mazery, and to Dr. Gachet... the doctors saw him but they did not extract the bullet." Jan Hulsker, in The New Complete Van Gogh Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, says: "the local doctor was called, but Vincent asked for Dr. Gachet who was also being looked for. Both doctors reached the conclusion that the bullet could not be extracted and that the wound would have to follow its own evolution".
5) Adeline says that her father was worried about the way to warn Theo, since Vincent, being drowsy, was not able to give his address, but knowing that Theo was an employee of the Boussod Valadon art gallery, sent a telegram to him as soon as the post office was open.
Walter and Metzger say that Hirschig marched the morning after to Paris with a letter of Dr. Gachet for Theo, since Vincent refused to give the address of his brother. But the best proof of how Theo knew the suicide of his brother, is the letter that Theo wrote to his wife on July 28, the same day that he arrived at Auvers: "This morning a Dutch painter who is also in Auvers brought a letter of Dr. Gachet with bad news on Vincent and requesting me to go there" In this letter he noticed Theo to cautiously communicate the bad news to his wife because it could affect the lactation of their little son.
6) Theo, wanting to show his gratefulness to those that helped Vincent in his last days, offers them as a present some of the canvas that were being displayed around his coffin. Present in this act are Theo, M. Ravoux, supposedly Adeline, Tom Hirschig, Dr. Gachet and his son Paul. M. Ravoux refuses to take any because he has enough with the two canvas that Vincent gave to him in life, (the picture of Adeline and the City Hall of Auvers). However, Dr. Gachet, according to Adeline, chose numerous paintings that passed to his son Paul saying: "Roll them, Coco ", to make a package. Later, Theo took the little Germaine (smallest daughter of the Ravoux) and gave her a toy, a kitchen set.
This does not seem a very real scene either. It is not logical that a person of prestige, until that moment, as Dr. Gachet, rushed himself greedily on the paintings, nor would Theo allow it.
We are used to the image of Theo as an amiable, generous, disinterested character, ready to sacrifice himself for his brother... all of it is a consequence of the private correspondence between both brothers and their family, but we must not forget that in Theo there is another very different personality: the retailer, the merchant in canvas, employee and
person in charge of a strong company in the market of the paintings that makes him a sagacious, psychological and capable dealer with painters, clients and other merchants, and that sometimes had to make very hard decisions.
An example of his commercial ability was the sale, economically successful, of some canvas of Corot, "unsaleable" according to the owners of the company Bousson et Valadon, to the merchant Mesdag.
An example of severity at heart, or firmness of character, may be his behavior with Gauguin during an unfortunate incident. A son of Gauguin, eight years old, that lived with his mother in Norway, fell from the window of a third floor and had to be taken to a hospital. The bills were raining on his mother. On December 16, 1889, Gauguin wrote to Theo -- who was his merchant, and to whom he had given some canvas, sculptures and ceramics for a value, according to Gauguin, of more than 2000 francs--to urge him to sell them and send directly to his wife in Norway 300 francs as soon as possible. Theo was aware of the serious economic crisis Gauguin was having. He had received from Haan, the painter, a letter in which he told him that from September to December of 1889 Gauguin lived on the money Haan gave him.
On the 22nd of December Theo wrote to Vincent (T22) saying: "His paintings [talking about Gauguin] are less saleable than those of the previous year... he would make everything to obtain something of money, but I cannot help him."
It is logical to suppose that, in front of such personality, Dr. Gachet would not behave as Adeline says, nor Theo, in spite of those circumstances, would had allowed it.
But there is still another detail that puts doubts on the description of Adeline. According to Emile Bernard, the most faithful friend of Vincent to whom demonstrated affection after his death, "On the walls of the room where the coffin had been placed, his last paintings were hung, and created some kind of atmosphere around him and--by the light or the genius they were emanating they made his death even more unbearable for us the artists... in the cemetery Dr. Gachet tried to dedicate some words to the life of Vincent, but he wept so much that he could only stammer an ininteligible farewell. He recalled the work of Vincent, spoke of his high goals and the great affection that he had professed to him although he knew him little ago. "He was a sincere man and a great artist." Gachet said, "For him only two things were real: mankind and Art. He will live in the art that he placed over everything".
If the paintings were hanging on the walls, it means that they would be, not with the frames, but with the stretchers, of which Van Gogh would not clear them until they were dried enough to send them to his brother. Therefore Dr. Gachet could not say "Roll them, Coco" unless we were forced to consider the absurd idea of him unnailing the stretchers. On the other hand, how many paintings could he take? 5, 6, 8? They fitted perfectly with their stretchers under his arms.
A last consideration. Adeline says that around the coffin of the artist there were some canvases like "the Church of Auvers", "the Irises" or "the Garden of Daubigny". The Church of Auvers is property of Dr. Gachet, and possibly he could take it at Theo's offer, but it is the only painting he possesed made during July by Van Gogh. If Dr. Gachet, who was an expert, took so many canvases, how is is possible that he did not choose any of those of oblong format 50 X 100 cm. like "The Garden of Daubigny" (F 777; JH 2105) or "Wheat field with Crows" (F 779; JH 2117)? Why did he not take "Irises"?. The only logical answer is that he did not take more than one or two canvases.
VALUATION OF THE MEMORIES. The affirmations contained in the memories of Adeline Ravoux, those that can be compared against facts, demonstrate the little reliability of the related facts and they decrease credibility to the facts on where witnesses do not exist, but only her word.
The memories, of poor value themselves, seem a plot to discredit Dr. Gachet. Throughout the exhibition she shells negative ideas that predispose the reader against the doctor, while she prepares the final offensive. The last scene is very well designed since it does not lack the tender detail of the gift of Theo to the little Germaine, the honesty and unselfishness of M. Ravoux, who does not want more than the two paintings that he already had, honesty and unselfishness that serves as background to emphasize more fiercely the perversity of the greedy Dr. Gachet.
REASONS THAT JUSTIFY THE MEMORIES. Adeline Ravoux really should not have any reason to attack Dr. Gachet. It could be thought that she had a childish bad feeling against him because he insisted on Vincent to lodge in a better establishment. It could be thought that such resentment was transmitted by her father who, being able to choose the canvases first and having refused, perhaps by shyness or courtesy, was angry at seeing Dr. Gachet taking several paintings and he none. But both cases are very stingy to justify her antagonism towards Dr. Gachet after so many years.
My modest opinion is that Adeline, in her old age, was surrounded by the discussions that arose around Dr. Gachet in 1954-55, (still not finished) and her opinion was intentionally manipulated by one of the sides.
ORIGIN OF THE RUMORS AGAINST THE GACHET. On the death of Dr. Gachet, his children, Paul and Marguerite, inherited his canvas. She died in 1949, and that same year, Paul Gachet fils, who had 76 years, donated to the Louvre Museum two paintings by Van Gogh: "Self-portrait" (F 627; JH 1772) and "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" (F 754; JH 2014).
Three years later, he donates again a series of ten canvases: Cézanne (3), Guillomin (2), Pissarro (2), Sisley (1), Renoir (1) and Monet (1). In 1954, Paul Gachet, at the age of 81 years, donates another 14 canvases: Van Gogh (5), Cézanne (4), Guillomin (3), Pissarro (1) and Guiss (1).
From the donations arises a public interest for the collection of the Gachets, and the corresponding critics. How is it possible that this family, that does not stand out by its wealth, has a collection of canvas of such category? This question is followed by the idea that they might be false, painted by Dr. Gachet.
Some critics have commented that Dr. Gachet was not so good painter as to imitate perfectly to Van Gogh, Cézanne, Guillomin, etc. On the other hand, if this is true, if the doctor had falsified so many paintings of so many today famous artists, and so well made that the experts still today cannot assure who are their authors, then it would be necessary to think that Dr. Gachet was the biggest artist of all times.
In 1954-55, in the L´Orangerie Museum of Paris, an exhibition titled "Van Gogh and the Auvers-sur-Oise Painters" was celebrated, as a tribute to the Gachet family. This exhibition accentuated the controversy and the unfounded rumors increased. A long history of accusations was born therefore, but short of proofs. As much then as now, when a controversial subject arises, the mass media, still without evidence, claims gossips to the air making big noise. The repetition of the news in many different media makes a lot of people believe in it, in spite of the lack of confirmation. Frequently, a repeated lie ends up becoming truth for many people.
Putting together what has been said in the previous paragraphs with the memories of Adeline, it would be possible to make the supposition of a journalist trying to justify the large amount of canvases by Van Gogh in hands of the Gachet with the scene of the Theo's distribution of paintings.
THE COLLECTION OF THE GACHETS. Upon the death of Dr. Gachet, he had in his estate, aside from works of other painters, 26 paintings and 28 drawings by Van Gogh.. Doubtlessly this number seems excessively high to be donation of the painter.
These works correspond to:
|Period of Paris:||2 canvases|
|Period of Arlés:||1 canvas|
|Period of Saint-Rémy:||9 canvases|
|Period of Auvers:||14 canvases|
As well, the works of Auvers have been painted in:
|First of July:||1 canvas|
That is to say, all the works by Van Gogh of the Gachet collection has been painted before the 6th of July, outstanding date in the biography of the painter, by his discussion with his brother, his moral collapse and the rupture of the relationship with his doctor. This lead us to two suppositions:
a) Given the reduced size of the room that Vincent had in the pension and the high amount of works that he painted (56 canvases between May and June), plus those brought from Saint-Rémy, he could store all or part of it in Dr. Gachet´s house.
Tom (Antón) Hirschig, the Dutch painter who lodged in the same pension that Vincent, in a letter written in 1934 says: "Still I see before me that work, that now is preserved as if it were sacred, with the greatest care, was hoarded in the most dirty place than it's possible to imagine, some kind of shed in a backyard where the goats were locked. It was dark, with unplastered brick walls and plenty of straw. In the end there were some steps. There it was Van Gogh´s work, and every day he put new canvas. They were lying on the ground or hanging on the walls and nobody took care of them. There were the "City Hall of Auvers", the day of the Bastille, with flags, a picture of the dauther of the barman that was living with us, and many others."
Hirschig had arrived at Auvers the 16th of June, and his visit to the shed where Van Gogh kept the paintings must have been after the 14th of July, since he saw the panel with the City Hall adorned in the occasion of the Bastille holiday.
In fact, Vincent was trying to look for a place (Letter 648 of first days of July) to store all the canvases, including those he kept at Tanguy´s in Paris in a deposit that did not fulfill the required conditions either. The painter even thought about putting a bed there to save 1 franc daily that cost him to sleep in the pension. After his rupture with Dr. Gachet he would not take more canvas to his house, preferring to keep provisionally his production in the old shed, probably thinking not to claim for the others until he found an appropriate place. Upon the death of Vincent, Dr. Gachet could not give back to Theo the whole collection of canvases kept in his house.
b) It is possible that the famous distribution of canvases by Theo never existed, since it does not appear any canvas whose first owner was painter Hirschig or Ravoux, (in the latter case with the exception of the canvas before mentioned). No painting dated after the 6th of July appears to be owned by Dr. Gachet either.
CONCLUSION. The situation is very confusing. Adeline´s information is not accurate, Hirschig says that the son of Dr. Gachet, Paul, was not in that meeting, Paul says that it was next to his father, there's no painting whose first owner was Hirschig... It is necessary an ample study of the existing documentation, which is not easy to acquire, so the debate remains open until more information could be obtained.
Utrera (Seville) Spain. June of 2000.
(Translated with the cooperation of Leandro Fanzone of Argentina)
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