"Cézanne to Van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet" was originally conceived as a Musée d'Orsay "dossier" exhibition organized around the Gachet family's gift to the French state and intended to acquaint the public with the personality of Dr. Gachet. It took a different turn, however, when two of the museum's long-standing partners, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, decided to participate in the project and thus give it international exposure. Since, with the exhibition of the two famous portraits by Van Gogh that were included in the centennial retrospective held in Amsterdam in 1990, virtually none of the works in the Gachet donation have ever before left France, this exhibition is not only an exciting event but also one of the unquestionable importance.
A fascinating and multisided individual, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828–1909) was a homeopathic physician, an amateur printmaker and painter, and the friend and patron of a cluster of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists—including Cézanne, Pissarro, Guillaumin, Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh—whose talents he was among the first to recognize. The exhibition presents major examples of the artists' work; it also features copies made after them at the turn of the century by Dr. Gachet, by his son, and by other amateurs in their circle, as well as a trove of "souvenirs" (artist's palettes and still-life and household objects) that record Gachet's close relationships with pioneering nineteenth-century painters.
This occasion also highlights the role of Paul Gachet fils (1873–1962), the doctor's son and namesake, who preserved his father's legacy by acting as biographer, as cataloguer and jealous guardian of the legendary collection, and, between 1949 and 1954, as munificent donor to the French state. At that time he expressed the desire, which was fully supported by the curators, to restrict loans to temporary exhibitions. However, he made it clear that those now responsible for the works would by free to judge if and when the merits of an exhibition warranted lending them. A half-century after the first gift in 1949 seems the right moment to pay homage both to Dr. Gachet and to the artists he loved.