Portrait of Dr. Gachet
In 1933, the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh was put on Hitler’s list of “degenerate artists.” Many of van Gogh’s most famous pieces of art were stolen from their owners and displayed in mock museums. One of these paintings was the famous Portrait of Dr. Gachet. The month before Vincent van Gogh committed suicide, he painted two different copies of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet. He wrote a letter to his brother regarding the painting, “I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it… Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done… There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.”
In the case of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet, the Nazis didn’t steal it from a private collector, but stripped the art from the Städel museum in Frankfort, Germany. The Städel acquired the portrait in 1911 and it was confiscated in 1937. Nazi leader Hermann Göring realized the value of the art, so he decided to sell it and make a profit. The Portrait of Dr. Gachet was auctioned off and purchased by a German collector who quickly sold the art to Siegfried Kramarsky. Kramarsky was a Jewish financier that fled to New York in 1938 to escape the Holocaust. He purchased the art for $53,000.
On May 15, 1990, exactly 100 years after the paintings creation, the family of Siegfried Kramarsky sold their copy of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million. At that time in history, it was the most expensive piece of art ever sold. It was purchased by Ryoei Saito, who was a Japanese businessman. Upon Saito’s death in 1996, the painting was thought to have been sold, but no information was made available to the public. Various reports in 2007 claimed that the painting was sold to the Austrian-born investment fund manager Wolfgang Flöttl, but this was never confirmed.
Many questions remain regarding the history of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet. In this specific case, a Jewish man was able to obtain the stolen art. If a high powered German, Russian, or American businessman had profited off of the art, I think more people would have taken offense. The second version of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet is currently in the possession of the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, France.