Catalogue numbers: F 612, JH 1731.
After leaving Holland and moving to France, van Gogh had attempted to situate himself in relation to such Parisian painters as Bernard and Gauguin. He had corresponded and exchanged work with the former and, in a sense, studied with the latter in late 1888. He felt that they all three shared a dissatisfaction with Impressionism and its successors and a common purpose in creating what he called 'la peinture consolante' - painting of consolation. In June 1889 van Gogh painted a picture he called Starry Sky, an imaginative composition, not painted from nature or the motif but composed from various sights and scenes of Brabant and Provence. He offered it to Bernard and Gauguin as his demonstration of a new form of religious painting. Both ignored the picture and thus overlooked van Gogh's most ambitious painting in his French period, which had been conceived with reference to their joint concerns. Van Gogh responded to this cruel blow by angrily rejecting their work and the directions they had encouraged him to take.
This painting is Lautrec's last work. It was executed between the beginning of May and the end of July 1901, only a few months before his death. It shows his cousin Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran taking his viva voce for his degree in medicine, although Tapié had in fact already qualified in 1899.
The candidate is sitting on the far left, red-faced in front of his professors, like a delinquent before a tribunal. The dark, barely illuminated scene seems out of keeping with Lautrec, and is more reminiscent of Dutch portraits in the seventeenth-century Baroque style.