Portrait of Dr. Felix Rey, January, 1889

The intern who cared for Vincent van Gogh after he severed his ear. The painting was a tributary gift. While Dr. Rey was quite fond of Van Gogh, who mentioned the physician favorably and intimately in his letters, Rey did not appreciate the painting, at least not at first. His parents used it to cover a hole in a chicken coop. Nevertheless, Dr. Rey clearly appreciated the essential role art played in his patient’s life, and recommended Van Gogh continue to pursue it. At this time, of course, Van Gogh’s painting was for the most part unknown and/or dismissed.

  1. David,

    I know most of Vincent van Gogh’s work but I really don’t remember this one ( oh how the mind grows old, lol). But as usual it is wonderful. He was my major study in university and I did my thesis on him and his life. He was a very interesting fellow and to this day remains my favourite artist bar none. Dali being a very close second. We lived in St. Petersburg, Fl and there is a lovely Dali museum there. Which was one of my daughter’s favourite places to go. Thanks for sharing this.


    • Thank you Pamela, for your comments. Van Gogh has always been one of my favorites. This is not one of his more famous paintings, but relevant to the theme of medicine’s interface with art, and art’s effects on health. This doctor, with his kind and insightful approach, helped Van Gogh a great deal.

  2. Nicole said:

    Dear David,
    I have an Art project in school and been asked to pick a portraiture artist and I felt Vincent Van Gogh would be interesting. I have decided to pick this particular portrait as it has a story behind it, but I may be a little perplexed at one question which is “what sort of colours have been used”, please could you help me?
    Thank you.

    • I don’t know if this might help, a quote from Rey himself regarding the color choice:

      “Vincent was above all a miserable, wretched man,… he would talk to me about complementary colours. But I really could not understand why red should not be red, and green not green!… When I saw that he outlined my head entirely in green (he had only two main colours, red and green), that he painted my hair and my mustache. I really did not have red hair in a blazing red on a biting green background, I was simply horrified. What should I do with this present?”

      I’ve also included a photograph of Rey, for comparison’s sake. I dare say Van Gogh improved Rey’s appearance, although the color scheme is certainly original.

      Of course other colors are used as well, as you can see, but the ones Rey mentioned are certainly dominant.
      Felix Rey

  3. David

    I have being wondering for long time about the “Portrait of Dr. Felix Rey” by van Gogh early 1889

    Why is the upper body af Dr. Rey mirrored (flipped horizontal)…the bottons on his jacket fixed on the wrong side (men clothing always fixed on the right side)?

    Did Vincent painted 3 selfportraits early in 1889 (2 with bandage on his left ear, both mirrored) and 1 more mirrored, where he just put Dr. Reys face on top of it?

    I hope you can see the funny part a 50 % portrait and a 50 % selfportrait

    Kind regards
    Svend Erik Hendriksen
    Greenland Art Review

    • Svend,

      You make excellent observations. I hadn’t noticed the similarity of this portrait to Van Gogh’s self-portraits done in the same period. While the color scheme of the Rey painting is whimsical, the coat in the painting resembles Vincent’s in style and color, and is incongruous with either the photograph of Rey or what one would imagine “typical” for an apprentice physician of that time. Moreover, I don’t believe there is any description that exists of Rey actually sitting for the painting. That he was surprised and dismayed at the representation suggests it was done wholly out of his sight.

      Your point about the buttons makes much sense, as Van Gogh reversed everything in the self-portraits including which ear was bandaged.

      I wonder about the motivation for such a “chimera.” Was it that Van Gogh was identifying in a profound way with the man who helped him through a difficult mental and physical ordeal? Or was it simply one of those expedient choices artists frequently make, which allow them to satisfy an artistic impulse while making use of the materials and techniques at hand? I tend to favor the latter, though it’s impossible to know even for the artist what is going on subtly in the sub-conscious.

      Then there is the whole controversy, of which you are undoubtedly aware, regarding the “photograph” dated 1886 some claim might be of Van Gogh, and suggest he might have used various optical techniques in addition to a mirror to aid his painting. I don’t know if any of this is of relevance with regard to the Rey painting, other than to suggest that Van Gogh could be quite methodical, in spite of his reputation for impulsive behavior.

      Thank you for your comments.

      Best, David

  4. Arielle said:

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    • I’m using Google sites, which is fairly utilitarian though effective. I wonder if the fast loading is because I have a fairly simple format (few large files).

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