The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin

Van Gogh Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin
“Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin” by Vincent van Gogh, is a portrait of Joseph Roulin, It is one of six paintings that van Gogh painted of his close friend, a postman from the southern French town of Arles.

Joseph Roulin, the local postman, was one of his favourite sitters in Arles. Van Gogh wrote to his brother:

“I am now at work with another model, a postman in blue uniform, trimmed with gold, a big bearded face, very like Socrates.”

Van Gogh painted several portraits of Joseph Roulin and Madame Roulin, as well as their children. The “Roulin Family” is a group of portrait paintings that Vincent van Gogh painted in Arles in 1888 and 1889. Van Gogh loved to paint portraits. However, it was difficult for financial reasons for him to find models. So seeing an entire family that agreed to sit for paintings, over several sittings each, was a delight for Van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh - Portret van de postbode Joseph Roulin

Postman Joseph Roulin, 1888 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In this painting as most of his art, Van Gogh used his imagination, colours and themes artistically and creatively to evoke desired emotions from the audience. Van Gogh and Joseph Roulin became good friends and drinking companions. Van Gogh compared Roulin to Socrates on many occasions, van Gogh found him to be “such a good soul and so wise and so full of feeling and so trustful.”

Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin (1889) van Gogh Kroller

Portrait of Joseph Roulin, 1889 at the Kröller-Müller Museum

Van Gogh said of his portraits:

“the only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which makes me feel the infinite more than anything else.”

 “in a picture, I want to say something comforting as music is comforting. I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolise, and which we seek to communicate by the actual radiance and vibration of our colouring.”

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin or “Joseph-Etienne Roulin”
  • Artist:                       Vincent van Gogh
  • Year:                         1889
  • Medium:                  Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions             66.2 × 55 cm (26.1 × 21.7 in)
  • Museum:                 The Barnes Foundation

Artist Essential Facts:

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“Of course one should not drink much, but often.” Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Photo Credit: 1) Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons