Van Gogh was an avid reader who absorbed a wide range of books by authors as diverse as Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Shakespeare, and Thomas Carlyle. Books had become more accessible and
affordable, and art journals and periodicals had gradually begun to increase in number and distribution. By the second half of the century art books had also become popular, and it was through this combination of literature that Van Gogh
was able to stay in touch with the world of fiction, art and politics when he was geographically and mentally isolated.
Van Gogh had been in the asylum at Saint-Remy for a year and had had no stimulating relationship, so the well-read and opinionated Dr Gachet in Auvers was a welcome relief. Not only was the doctor an intellectual equal and versed in contemporary art, he was also enthusiastic about Van Gogh's paintings, and he and members of his family sat for several portraits. In this painting the identity of the models remains unknown and their form is sketchy with their features obliterated by the brilliant shaft of light that illuminates them. Surrounding this the dark tones of the trees, sky and river encroach oppressively.