Dr. Paul Gachet, homeopathic doctor, collector and friend of many Impressionist and Post Impressionist painters, nursed Van Gogh through the final weeks of his life. He is immortalized in this expressive print, Van Gogh's only etching, and in two painted portraits. After his initial experiments with lithography, Van Gogh was introduced to etching by Dr. Gachet, who was himself an etcher of some skill. According to van Heugten and Pabst 33 impressions of L'Homme à la pipe were pulled as a collaborative effort by the artist and his subject, and an additional thirty or so were pulled by the master printer Eugè ne Delâtre, to whom Gachet fils had entrusted the plate.
The inscription by Gachet's son, Paul Gachet, Jr. on the reverse of the present example, reveals this to be one of this first group of impressions. The inscription is similar to those found on three other early impressions also documented by van Heugten and Pabst, one in the Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, another in a Swiss private collection, and a third, in an American private collection.
Van Gogh sent impressions of the etching to his friend Gauguin and his brother Theo, eliciting the latter's enthusiastic response in a letter dated 23 June, 1990; 'And now I must tell you something about your etching. It is a true painter's etching. No refinement in the execution, but a drawing on metal. I find it a very beautiful drawing.'
The date which appears on the etching was in all probability added at some point by Dr. Gachet. It seems more likely that 15th June was the actual date of execution. Theo had been in Auvers on June 8th so the likelihood of the print having been made in May but not shown to him on this visit seems small.