Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Joseph Roulin

Vincent van Gogh Portrait of Joseph Roulin
Vincent van Gogh Portrait of Joseph Roulin Arles, early 1889, MoMA, New York.

Painting of the Week

Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Joseph Roulin

Joseph Roulin worked for a post office in the French town of Arles. He didn’t carry letters—he rather was sorting mail at the train station. In 1888, Vincent van Gogh moved to Arles, a fifteen-hour train ride from Paris, in the hopes of creating an artist cooperative.

The plan never came to realization, and the artist found himself lonely and isolated—a situation exacerbated by his inability to speak the challenging local Provençal dialect. Joseph Roulin was van Gogh’s neighbour, they lived on the same street—and became close friends. The painter created over 20 portraits of Joseph Roulin and his family. This picture, which van Gogh boasted of having completed quickly, in a single session, was painted after Roulin got a better-paying job and left Arles for Marseilles. Some scholars think that this portrait was not painted from life but rather from memory or from previous portraits.

Vincent van Gogh Portrait of Joseph Roulin Arles, early 1889, MoMA, New York, Vincent van Gogh Portrait of Joseph Roulin

Vincent van Gogh Portrait of Joseph Roulin Arles, early 1889, MoMA, New York.

Van Gogh was drawn to Roulin’s distinctive facial features, his devotion to his wife and children, and to the exceptional kindness he demonstrated toward the artist. When in 1888 after an argument with Gauguin, van Gogh underwent a psychotic episode in which he menaced his fellow artist and then sliced off a part of his own ear, Roulin tended to van Gogh in the aftermath of this incident. He was seeing him in the psychiatric hospital in Arles, watching over him during his internment there, writing to his family to reassure them of his health, and providing constant solace to the recovering artist. In a letter to Theo, Vincent describes his friend as:


a man who is not bitter, not melancholy, not perfect, not happy and also not always perfectly honest. But such a good fellow, so wise, so feeling and so faithful.

Between August 1888 and April 1889 van Gogh painted six consecutive portraits of Roulin, three of which had flowers in the background. The postman is portrayed in a frozen moment of time, but full of energy, all but buzzing with life. In the hands, face and even the brushstrokes of the blue uniform, the viewer senses a man conscious of being watched.


In another letter van Gogh sent to his brother Theo, he wrote that of all subjects, the modern portrait excited him the most. As he elaborated, I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we try to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our coloringPortrait of Joseph Roulin is a great example of that idea.

Find out more:

      

 


Art Historian, founder and CEO of DailyArtMagazine.com and DailyArt mobile app. But to be honest, her greatest accomplishment is being the owner of Pimpek the Cat.

Comments

More in Painting of the Week

  • Ancient

    Painting of the Week: Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis

    By

    The bejeweled woman from the mosaic, holding the measuring tool for the Roman foot, is identified by the restored Greek inscription as Ktisis. She is a figure personifying the act of generous donation or foundation. Ktisis, in Greek ktísis – is the creation (creature) which is founded from nothing (this is also...

  • 19th Century

    Painting of the Week: Winslow Homer, Summer Squall

    By

    The crashing waves roar with a deafening thunder, and the foamy spray flies with a quickening speed. Great gusts of wind blow the waters over the rocks and over the sea shore. A storm of monstrous size lands aground and wreaks havoc upon humanity and nature....

  • Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London

    Baroque

    Painting of the Week: Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus

    By

    Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599–1660) was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age and European Baroque. And The Rokeby Venus is his only surviving nude, three others are mentioned...

  • 19th Century

    Painting of the Week: Camille Pissarro, Rainbow at Pontoise

    By

    Camille Pissarro has an interesting portfolio of paintings. His works are divided between cosmopolitan views of Paris and countryside views of Pontoise. He is an artist that easily fits in sumptuous parlors and sunny parks. Rainbow at Pontoise is one such painting that showcases the rural charms of the...

  • Artist

    Botero and His Characteristic Chubby Style: Boterism

    By

    Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, demonstrates how differently we can all view the same object. Although, Botero is known for creating thick fat looking figures in his art, he argues that his intention isn’t to represent weighty figures. Instead, his aim is to give prominence to volume....

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy