Another in the ever-expanding genre of possible romances between famous painters and their subjects.
The real-life van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life, an artistically prolific period, in Auvers-sur-Oise under the care of Dr. Gachet, a homeopathic physician. Richman (Swedish Tango, 2004, etc.) re-envisions those weeks in 1890 by focusing on the doctor’s daughter, Marguerite. Approaching 21, she has spent her childhood isolated with her younger brother, who is cared for by Madame Chevalier, a “governess” who is clearly their father’s mistress. Madame’s daughter, Louise-Josephine (probably Marguerite’s half-sister), has recently joined the eccentric household. A would-be painter with a growing art collection, Dr. Gachet does not allow mixing with the townspeople. Marguerite, a gifted pianist and gardener who yearns for experience in the world, is immediately attracted to van Gogh, who seems serious and physically fragile but relatively sane. Smitten himself, he asks Dr. Gachet’s permission to paint Marguerite. He portrays her first in the garden, capturing her loneliness, then at the piano, showing her beauty. As their flirtation deepens, Marguerite also begins to forge a genuine friendship with Louise-Josephine, who regularly sneaks out to meet her local sweetheart. Soon, Marguerite is doing the same to meet Vincent. But a visit to his brother in Paris leaves van Gogh distraught. He explains that given his limited energy and funds, he cannot afford to marry, but he gives Marguerite a third portrait, hidden in their private cave: “It will always be here for you,” he promises. Dr. Gachet catches her returning and sequesters her at home. Days later, van Gogh shoots himself. When Louise-Josephine, the story’s only truly healthy character, marries and suggests that Marguerite come to Paris, Marguerite chooses to remain in Auvers-sur-Oise, to be near Vincent’s painting.
Despite Richman’s talent with visual detail, nothing new about van Gogh is illuminated, and wan Marguerite never comes fully to life.