Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Joseph Roulin, 1889. Oil on canvas, 25 3/8 x 21 3/4 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William A. M. Burden, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Rosenberg, Nelson A. Rockefeller, Mr. and Mrs. Armand P. Bartos, The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, Mr. and Mrs. Werner E. Josten, and Loula D. Lasker Bequest (all by exchange). Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art /Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
One of van Gogh’s closest friends when he lived in Arles was Joseph Roulin, who worked for the local post office. Van Gogh executed six paintings and three drawings of Roulin between 1888 and 1889. The artist thought so highly of Roulin that he confessed in a letter to his brother Theo, “I don’t know if I will be able to paint the Postman as I feel him.”
How would you choose to represent one of your closest friends or family member? How would you emphasize how they make you feel and what they mean to you?
We’ve been asking visitors to use haiku, a Japanese 17 syllable poem.
Title: Person’s name
Line 1: 5 syllables describing how you know him or her
Line 2: 7 syllables describing what he or she looks like
Line 3: 5 syllables describing how you feel about him or her
Graduate Intern Beth Rizley Evans wrote one about her sister to help inspire you.
Sister, doctor, friend
We look like repetitions
She laughs at my jokes
Proud of your work? Share your haiku on Twitter and tag it #vangoghhaiku.
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Marcelle Roulin, 1888. Oil on canvas, 13 3/4 x 9 3/4 in. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Every time I enter Van Gogh: Repetitions, I have to stop and explore the portraits of Marcelle Roulin on view. Maybe it’s because I have a baby at home. Maybe it’s because I’m in awe of how Marcelle Roulin tolerates the gold bracelet on her wrist and the ring on her tiny finger (I know my daughter wouldn’t). I might just want to squeeze those chubby cheeks. In any case, I’m fascinated by van Gogh’s portraits of a baby who is so new to life.
Van Gogh had a enduring affection for children. When he met Marcelle’s mother, Augustine Roulin, she was pregnant. She gave birth to Marcelle on July 31, 1888. Soon after van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother Theo saying, a baby “has the infinite in its eyes;” in the same letter he shared his intention to paint Marcelle. The artist created 3 individual portraits of Marcelle and two paintings of the baby in her mother’s arms.
The artist wasn’t the only one smitten with baby Marcelle. The following May, Marcelle’s father, Joseph Roulin wrote a letter to van Gogh saying, “Beautiful Marcelle is still doing well, she has two teeth, she is an extraordinary little one, very well-behaved, she has everything in her favour, only when I arrived she didn’t want to see me. It was only when I left that she really looked at me and pulled my beard a little.”
Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947
During his stay at the mental institution in Saint- Rémy, van Gogh painted a few autumn studies amid the changing colors. In a letter to his brother Theo, he described his progress: “The last study I did is a view of the village – where people were at work – under enormous plane trees – repairing the pavements. So there are piles of sand, stones and the gigantic tree-trunks – the yellowing foliage, and here and there glimpses of a house-front and little figures.”
The bright leaves inspired him so much that he quickly captured the moment on a piece of cloth, resulting in The Large Plane Trees.
How would the leaves on the trees look different if he had waited a few more weeks to paint this picture? How would the colors be different? How might the composition look different? Would the mood have changed?