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Duchenne and Gachet

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.318.7184.676 (Published 06 March 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:676
  1. Arpan K Banerjee, consultant radiologist
  1. Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham

    “Duchenne de Boulogne: la mécanique des passions” is at the Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris, until 4 April, and “Un ami de Cézanne et Van Gogh: le docteur Gachet” is at the Grand Palais, Paris, until 26 April

    Guillaume Duchenne, born in Boulogne in 1807, studied medicine in Paris and came under the spell of Laënnec, Dupuytren, and Magendie and eventually specialised in neurology. He was unconventional and eccentric and never held a hospital appointment. He discovered that external electrical stimulation could bring about muscle contractions and used this as treatment and to analyse the muscles involved in facial expression. Stimulating different muscles led to the differing facial expressions—joy, sadness, anger, alertness, and so on. The exhibition displays photographs of subjects undergoing these electrostimulation experiments and early anatomical drawings of the muscles of the face. Many of the photographs are from the original atlas Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine: au analyse electro-physiologique de l'expression des passions, avec atlas. Charles Darwin, who was also interested in facial expression, used Duchenne's illustrations for his book Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals, published 10 years later in 1872.

    The second exhibition is larger and is on display at the Grand Palais until April, when it moves to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and then to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It deals with Dr Paul Gachet's friendships with several impressionist painters, including Pissarro, Cézanne, Renoir, and Monet.

    Dr Gachet was a great art collector and early champion of the impressionists, and was the subject of several paintings by Van Gogh (Portrait of Dr Gachet, 1890), some of which are on display here. Gachet himself was also a painter, and examples of his work are also shown. The role that radiography plays in distinguishing the original paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, etc, from the copies is elegantly displayed in the exhibition.


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    Auvers, where Gachet lived, was a Mecca for impressionists in the 1870s. Cézanne was a neighbour of Dr Gachet, Pissarro and Gauguin were visitors, and Van Gogh spent his last years there, finding the village an inspiration for his works, including The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise (1890). Gachet may have been a painter of the second rank but was a friend to some of the finest French painters of the 19th century in addition tobeing an astute collector of fine art. The exhibition is a feast for impressionist fans.

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