Leaving van Gogh
In his 37 years, Vincent van Gogh produced hundreds of paintings and letters; but there is still much we do not know about his life and death. In this fine novel, Carol Wallace finds a way around a mass of confusing data by having his physician describe the months prior to van Gogh’s suicide in 1890.
Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, art patron and physician of the mind, has an incomplete knowledge of van Gogh’s troubled history when he agrees to oversee him informally. The unkempt painter visits the Gachet house, frequently at first, where they converse as equals. The visits give Gachet hope that he can cure van Gogh’s mental illness—and his own feelings of inadequacy as well. Gachet, who believes he failed his dying wife, is haunted by guilt and regret.
Van Gogh’s companionship brings some pleasure back into the Gachet home. The doctor, an amateur artist, begins to observe the painter at work and, thrilled by the unconventional use of pigment, sees colors as new. The vivid language used to describe the paintings is one of the pleasures of this book.
For a while, Gachet excuses Vincent’s moodiness, his anger, and irrationality; but what must come, will come. Theo, Vincent’s brother and only means of support, is dying. Depression overcomes the painter’s will. He cannot paint—or live without painting. Gachet recognizes despair beyond his reach and, unable to prevent van Gogh from taking his own life, he may even have helped. Even after Vincent is buried beside Theo, there are splashes of paint on the floor of the doctor’s house where, symbolic of one man’s lasting effect on another, they still remain.
Leaving Van Gogh is highly recommended.