Portrait of Joseph Roulin Vincent van Gogh Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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At the prime of his career, Vincent Van Gogh developed a passion for portraits. In one of the many letters he wrote to his brother Theo, Van Gogh expressed his excitement about modern portraits.

Throughout his career, Vincent Van Gogh painted more than 20 portraits of Joseph Roulin and his family. The two had a close relationship and friendship, which was the basis of their work together. The two lived on the same street in Arles, South of France, and they forged a close friendship that lasted for years. Van Gogh made the first portrait of Joseph Roulin in 1988 due to his fascination with his distinct facial features and character. He was also drawn to Roulin’s devotion to his wife and children, as well as the kindness he demonstrated towards Van Gogh himself.

Details of the artwork

Joseph Roulin is the subject of the portrait. In the piece, he appears in a blue uniform. The blue uniform belongs to the postal office where he worked. He frequently wore his blue uniform and cap with pride, and it was a significant part of his personality and character. The portrait features a floral background. The background echoes the lush and swirling beard of Joseph Roulin.

In the piece, Roulin faces the picture plane frontally. His eyes appear to be looking slightly and wistfully to the side. Using energetic lines, Van Gogh describes Roulin’s full beard and facial structure. He also brings out his slightly crooked nose perfectly. He used dark and thick lines of a reed pen to paint the vibrant coat and blue cap with the words postes on it.

On the coat, there are two buttons and a beautifully painted collar. Behind Joseph is a patchwork of nervous and intersecting lines made using a quill pen. They create an overall surface tension that reinforces the energy from the main character of the painting. The lines also bring out the unsettled nature of Roulin’s gaze perfectly. The picture portrays Roulin’s character and physical features perfectly from the eyes of a friend and an admirer.

The portrait of Joseph Roulin is made with Reed, quill pen, and brown ink over black chalk. It features dimensions of 32.1 by 24.4 cm worth of canvas.

After the 1988 portrait, the renowned artist made several other portraits of Mr Roulin, his wife, and three children. He was more than excited to create art with Roulin’s family as his models. Additionally, between August 1888 and April 1889, Van Gogh painted six consecutive portraits of his close friend. Three of the portraits featured flowers in the background.