Head of the Postman Joseph Roulin

Head of the Postman Joseph Roulin

"Now I’m working with another model, a postman in a blue uniform with gold trimmings, a big, bearded face, very Socratic. A raging republican, like père Tanguy. A more interesting man than many people." To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 31 July 1888
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Painting Date
1st of August 1888
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Related image was a drawing of the postman Roulin Vincent sent to his artist and friend, John Russell – note the difference in Roulin’s lapel buttons between drawing and painting.  In this case, the drawing was done afterward and used to describe the painting in concept to Russell.

Van Gogh painted the family of postman Joseph Roulin in the winter of 1888, every member more than once and then returned to several he liked and experimented with background and color schemes for months thereafter. The family included Joseph Roulin, the postman; his wife, Augustine  (La Berceuse); and their three children (baby Marcelle, schoolboy Camille and eldest brother, Armand). Van Gogh described the family as “really French, even if they look like Russians.” Over the course of just a few weeks, he painted Augustine and the children several times. The reason for multiple works was partly so that the Roulins could have a painting of each family member, so that with these pictures and others, their bedroom became a virtual “museum of modern art.” The family’s consent to modeling for van Gogh also gave him the opportunity to create more portraits, which was both meaningful and inspirational to van Gogh.

Van Gogh used color for dramatic effect. Each family member’s clothes are done in bold primary colors and van Gogh used contrasting colors in the background to intensify the impact of the work.

Joseph Roulin was born on 4 April 1841 in Lambesc. His wife, Augustine-Alex Pellicot, was also from Lambesc; they married 31 August 1868. Joseph, 47 years of age at the time of these paintings, was ten years his wife’s senior. Theirs was a working class household. Joseph worked at the railroad station as an entreposeur des postes.

Van Gogh and Joseph Roulin met and became good friends and drinking companions. Van Gogh compared Roulin to Socrates on many occasions; while Roulin was not the most attractive man, van Gogh found him to be “such a good soul and so wise and so full of feeling and so trustful.” Strictly by appearance, Roulin reminded van Gogh of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky – the same broad forehead, broad nose, and shape of the beard. Roulin saw van Gogh through the good and the most difficult times, corresponding with his brother, Theo following his rift with Gauguin and being at his side during and following the hospital stay in Arles.  He helped Vincent in several times of need and illness during their brief but strong relationship and Vincent painted Joseph and the members of his family several times in appreciation of the companionship and friendship the Postman Roulin and his family afforded him.

“Now I’m working with another model, a postman in a blue uniform with gold trimmings, a big, bearded face, very Socratic. A raging republican, like père Tanguy. A more interesting man than many people.”

 

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To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 31 July 1888

“He was getting too stiff while posing, and that’s why I painted him twice, the second time at a single sitting, on white canvas, background blue, almost white, in the face all the broken tones: yellow, green, purples, pinks, reds, the uniform Prussian blue trimmed with yellow.”

To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Sunday, 5 August 1888

Last week I did not only one but even two portraits of my postman, one half-length, with hands, and a life-size head. The chap, not accepting money, was more expensive,eating, drinking with me, and in addition I gave him Rochefort’s La Lanterne.

To Theo. Arles, Monday, 6 August 1888

 

Painting, Oil on Canvas – 64 x 48 cm. Size 15 Paysage
Arles: August 1, 1888
The Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit, Michigan, United States of America, North America
F: 433, JH: 1524

Where Vincent Was:
Arles

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