More about Portrait of Doctor Rey
Vincent van Gogh was misunderstood in his time, even by those who cared about him and received a portrait of themselves now worth $50 million dollars.
When van Gogh cut off the lower lobe of his left ear with a razor, he was treated by Dr. Felix Rey, who was then a 23-year-old intern. Dr. Rey was known to be particularly sympathetic and went on to become a well-regarded surgeon. He cared about van Gogh’s wellbeing, he just never became a fan of his art. Interviewed 40 years later about the portrait van Gogh painted in appreciation for his kind care, Dr. Rey admitted: “I was simply horrified.” He didn’t like the red and green composition, or how his beard and hair were painted.
There are conflicting accounts of what happened to this painting after it left van Gogh’s hands. In one version, Dr. Rey, not sure what to do with it, put it in his attic until he gave it to his mother, who used it to patch her chicken coop. In 1901 Charles Camoin, an artist friend of Henri Matisse, was retracing van Gogh’s steps when he found it and bought it. There is no account of his reaction to the artistically-enhanced hen house but I can only imagine, as a van Gogh enthusiast, he was horrified.
In the aforementioned interview from 1928, Dr. Rey gave a different account. He said that van Gogh also gave him two other paintings, The Hospital Garden and Dormitory in the Hospital, and that he didn’t know what to do with any of them. So, he offered them to an administrator of the hospital, who also didn’t want them. Rey then tried pawning them off on the secretary of the clinic. The secretary was an artist who called them “dirty obscenities” and gave them to a pharmacist. The pharmacist held onto the pieces and later sold them for a large profit.
Dr. Rey could have made said profit for himself, but he simply never considered that van Gogh would become successful. When van Gogh’s brother, Theo, wrote to him saying that one of his paintings had sold for five hundred francs, Dr. Rey was convinced it was a kind lie to help him through his recovery.
- “Kunst Und Künstler:‘With Van Gogh’s Friends in Arles.’” Kunst und Künstler: With Van Goghs Friends in Arles". Accessed March 17, 2022. http://www.vggallery.com/ misc/archives/rey.htm.
- Piérard Louis, and Herbert Garland. The Tragic Life of Vincent Van Gogh. J. Castle, 1925.
- Wilkie, Kenneth. The Van Gogh File: The Myth and the Man. London: Souvenir Press, 2012.
- “‘Portrait of Doctor Félix Rey’ by Vincent Van Gogh.” Joy of Museums Virtual Tours, September 4, 2020. https://joyofmuseums.com/museums/russian-federation/moscow- museums/pushkin-museum/portrait-of-doctor-felix-rey/.
- The Collection. N.p.: John Francis Kinsella, 2019.
Here is what Wikipedia says about Portrait of Doctor Rey
Portrait of Doctor Rey is an oil on canvas painting by Vincent van Gogh, produced at Arles, probably between 7 and 17 January 1889, falling between his departure from hospital on the former date and letter 571 to his brother Theo on the latter date which mentions giving the work to its subject as a keepsake. It shows his 'Japanising' style of that period and is now in the Pushkin Museum, in Moscow.
Check out the full Wikipedia article about Portrait of Doctor Rey