Portrait of Eugene Boch

Portrait of Eugene Boch

"I’d like to do the portrait of an artist friend who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale sings, because that’s his nature. This man will be blond. I’d like to put in the painting my appreciation, my love that I have for him. I’ll paint him, then, just as he is, as faithfully as I can — to begin with. But the painting isn’t finished like that. To finish it, I’m now going to be an arbitrary colourist. I exaggerate the blond of the hair, I come to orange tones, chromes, pale lemon. Behind the head — instead of painting the dull wall of the mean room, I paint the infinite. I make a simple background of the richest, most intense blue that I can prepare, and with this simple combination, the brightly lit blond head, against this rich blue background achieves a mysterious effect, like a star in the deep azure." To Theo. Arles, Saturday, 18 August 1888
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Painting Date
17th of September 1888
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Vincent met Eugene Boch in Arles in the spring of 1888 after he moved to Arles.  Boch was living with the American painter Dodge Macknight in nearby Fontveille where Eugene wrote poetry and Dodge pursued post impressionism in Provence.  Vincent was not impressed with Macknight’s work ethic and neither Boch nor Macknight were fond of Vincent’s paintings or impassioned and combative manner of interacting.  However, in August of 1888, Boch and Vincent share walks and discussions about art and Vincent came to admire Eugene.  Another connection between Vincent and Boch is through Eugene’s accomplished pointillist painting sister, Anna Boch.  Anna buys the only painting Vincent sold before his passing – The Red Vineyard – when she sees it hanging at the exhibition of Les XX in Brussels in 1890.

From the Musee D’Orsay :

Eugène Boch

Van Gogh met the Belgian painter Eugène Boch (1855-1941) in mid-June 1888, while Boch was spending a few weeks near Arles. Around 8 July, Vincent mentioned Boch in a letter to his brother Théo: “I very much like the looks of this young man with his distinctive face, like a razor blade, and his green eyes”.
On 11 August, his idea began to take shape: “I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams great dreams, who works like the nightingale sings, because it is his nature to do so. This man will be blond. I would like to convey in the picture my appreciation, the love that I have for him. So I will paint him just as he is, as faithfully as I can […].
Behind his head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of this shabby appartment, I will paint infinity, I will do a simple background of the richest blue, the most intense blue that I can create, and through this simple combination of the bright head against this rich, blue background, I will obtain a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of an azure sky”.
Two weeks later, Boch sat for Van Gogh. “Well, thanks to him I have at last the first sketch of this painting that I have dreamt of for so long – The Poet. He sat for me. His fine head with his green eyes stands out in my portrait against a starry sky of deep ultramarine; he wears a short, yellow jacket, a collar of unbleached linen and a colourful tie”.
Although he only considered it to be a “sketch”, Van Gogh framed this work, which he called The Poet. We know that it hung for some time on the wall of his bedroom in the Yellow House, because it appears in the first version of The Bedroom (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum).

 

“I’d like to do the portrait of an artist friend who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale sings, because that’s his nature.  This man will be blond. I’d like to put in the painting my appreciation, my love that I have for him.  I’ll paint him, then, just as he is, as faithfully as I can — to begin with.  But the painting isn’t finished like that. To finish it, I’m now going to be an arbitrary colourist.  I exaggerate the blond of the hair, I come to orange tones, chromes, pale lemon. Behind the head — instead of painting the dull wall of the mean room, I paint the infinite.  I make a simple background of the richest, most intense blue that I can prepare, and with this simple combination, the brightly lit blond head, against this rich blue background achieves a mysterious effect, like a star in the deep azure.”

To Theo. Arles, Saturday, 18 August 1888

More on Anna Boch, Eugene’s sister: http://annaboch.com/theredvineyard/

 

Painting, Oil on Canvas – 60 x 45 Size 12 Paysage
Arles: September 17, 1888
Musée d’Orsay
Paris, France, Europe
F: 462, JH: 1574

Where Vincent Was:
Arles

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