Two Sources for Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Armand Roulin:
A Character Likeness and a Portrait Schema, Arts Magazine, 56,
1981 (September), 156—163
“Vincent van Gogh” “Armand Roulin” “Emile Bernard” “Gauguin” “Charles
Barque” “Character Likeness”
Vincent van Gogh used two pictorial
prototypes for his Rotterdam portrait of Armand Roulin, one a portrait
schema, the other a "character likeness."
Vincent van Gogh's portraits constitute an important part of his oeuvre.
Esteemed for their bold innovations and insightful characterizations, they have been
elevated to the status of modern classics and viewed as progenitors of
modern portraiture. (1) Yet, despite the close study of these works, one aspect
has received scant attention, that is, their pictorial sources. (2) That van
Gogh used such sources is a well-known fact--at least insofar as other genres
are concerned--and one which he openly advocated, as evidenced by a statement
in a letter of June 1885 to his brother Theo; he wrote: "But it is a fact
that one needs both nature and pictures," stressing the importance of the
second element "pictures" by underlining the conjunction and. (3) Yet,
in portraiture specific sources have rarely been identified. In this essay I
will propose that van Gogh used two pictorial prototypes for his Rotterdam portrait
of Armand Roulin (Fig. 1) and that these prototypes fulfilled different
functions in his creative process. One prototype was a portrait schema, that
is, a proportional pattern; the other was a type of image dubbed here a "character
likeness." The meaning of this term will become apparent in the ensuing
Of these two sources, the latter, the portrait likeness, is more complex.
In order to explain and understand the specifics of it, several broad
topics must be reviewed. These are: van Gogh's attitudes to portraiture
in general, his connections
with certain contemporary art movements, and his own artistic evolution.
The portrait that will be considered portrays Armand Roulin, the eldest
son of Joseph Roulin, the postal clerk who had befriended Vincent van
Gogh shortly after the latter's arrival in Arles, in February 1888.
(4) The painting was executed by the great Dutch artist as part of
a series of portraits of the Roulin family, a family that numbered
five members: Roulin, his wife, and three children--the infant, Marcelle,
born in August, 1888, Camille aged eleven, and the seventeen--year-old
Armand. (5) That these portraits were of great importance to van Gogh
is evident from his announcement to Theo of their completion. In an undated letter,
but presumed to have been written in mid-December, he declares: "I have
made portraits of a whole family, that of the postman whose head I had done previously--the
man, his wife, the baby, the little boy and the son of sixteen, all characters
and very French, though the first has the look of a Russian.” (6)
For the teenager Armand, two paintings have been identified as portraits
of him, the earlier one in Essen (Fig. 2) and the somewhat later canvas,
the Rotterdam painting (Fig. 1). (7)
Exactly which portraits comprise the series, if indeed there is one
series, is uncertain as several versions or variants exist of all members
of the family, ranging in format from bust to three--quarter length, and stylistically,
from naturalistic to overtly stylized. One constant, however, is the viewpoint.
All the heads are shown in a frontal view, either en face or turned slightly
to the oblique, except for the second portrait of Armand which presents him in
three-quarter view. This pose reveals a physiognomic trait--a receding chin-that
was hidden from sight in the frontal image. As a result, the viewer is confronted
by a markedly altered character. Whereas the other members of the family maintain
a basic identity despite changes of format or style (for example, Madame Roulin
is always nurturing, Joseph Roulin is always amiable yet dignified), Armand appears
to possess two entirely different identities, one extroverted, the other introverted.
In the Rotterdam painting, the "introspective portrait," Armand
is represented chest-length and oriented in a three--quarter view. He wears
a brimmed hat and a jacket that appears large for his slender frame. Painted
in the same deep-blue hue (as is his hair), this color contrasts with the lighter
tones of the green ground, his white shirt and ruddy face. Because they are not
modeled, forms appear as areas of flat color bounded by a precise contour emphasized
by broadly painted lines. Line, too, is used to describe features and facial
contours. Relief is rendered by parallel strokes of discrete color that follow
the planes of the face. The brushwork in the face and the rich impasto touches
on the large bow of the shirt contrast with the broad, undifferentiated surfaces
of the other areas, thereby drawing attention to the face.
Armand's features are not obviously expressive. Immobile, they do not
react to external stimuli nor reveal the dynamics of his inner being.
Only his eyes, averted and downcast, manifest a state of mind and temperament.
In this respect the Rotterdam painting differs significantly from the
portrait in Essen. The Essen painting, which I believe was executed
earlier than the Rotterdam canvas, as it has a more impressionistic
facture, represents an animated, nervous character. Highlights on lips,
nose and eyes, the subtle asymmetry of Armand's shoulders, the 45-degree
tilt of his hat, and his side-long glance contribute to an impression
of mutability. So, too, do the motile designs of eyes, brows, and nose.
In the first painting Armand is a vital, handsome youth interacting
with his environment, whereas in the second portrait he is shown in
a mood of lugubrious stasis.
This stylistic development is foreshadowed in the paintings produced
in the first months in Arles (for example, in the portrait of a young
girl, La Mousme),
but it was given additional impetus and direction by his contact, both
direct and indirect, with the Pont-Aven painters. (8) An exchange of
letters and works of art with the originators of synthetism, Emile
Bernard and Paul Gauguin, prepared him for his direct encounter with
the new style when Gauguin took up residence with van Gogh in October 1888. Gauguin's two--month stay gave Vincent the
opportunity to view synthetism at first hand. (9) This abstract eclectic style
answered the needs of van Gogh at just this moment. It confirmed his desire to
take liberties with nature in order to penetrate and expose its profoundest meanings.
The simplifications of synthetism--its abstract intentions, its expressive
use of color, line, and composition--owed much to diverse sources of eastern
and western art. Japanese prints and the minor arts of Japan including metalwork
and cloth were the most significant of eastern sources, whereas from western
art the synthetists were inspired by medieval decorative arts, especially stained
glass (because of the isolation of brilliant hues by line, that is, leading)
and the paintings of the so-called "Primitives" of the later Middle
Ages and early Renaissance, where seemingly similar concepts of line and color
were employed. The Primitives were neither imitated nor studied for historical
or archaeological information, as the Nazarenes and Pre-Raphaelites had approached
this art in the early and mid--nineteenth century.(10) Rather it was the
formal features of the Primitives and a quality of piety considered to be authentic
that appealed to the synthetists. (11)
Particularly influential were German Renaissance portraits, since these
embodied formal qualities for which the synthetists were searching.
Van Gogh apparently studied just such portraiture during the preparation
of the Rotterdam painting as is evident from the painting itself. The
baroque, Hals-like type underlying the Essen portrait has been replaced
by a more archaic prototype, that is, a "primitive." Among
the "primitives" that van Gogh might have considered, Hans Holbein
the Younger is the likeliest. (12) Frequently reproduced in prints accessible
to van Gogh, indeed, he owned many, the German master's portraits, both drawn
and painted, depict sitters in poses comparable to Armand's representation. Also
remarkably similar are physiognomic forms. Yet, no Holbein portrait resembles
van Gogh's Rotterdam depiction of Armand as closely as does a painting attributed
to Hans Holbein the Elder (Fig. 3), in Frankfurt today, but which was in the
famous Sigmaringen museum in the later nineteenth century. (13)
Bearing the date 1522, the painting portrays a twenty-two--year-old
male member of the Augsburg Weiss family. The correspondences between
the paintings are so pronounced that it is unlikely that they are fortuitous.
Pose, costume, color, and physiognomy are similar though not identical.
The points of closest physiognomic comparison are, to enumerate them
briefly: the mouths and the structures of the tips of the noses, the
structure of the chin with a central dimple, the contour of the juncture
of jaw and cheek, the position and accentuation of the cheekbone, and
the contour of the hairline. As for similarities of dress, there is
the obvious identity of white shirts with bows tied at the neck. Of
equal importance in establishing a case for van Gogh's acquaintance
with the German Renaissance painting is the shape and contour of the
brim of Armand's hat; it has a surprising degree
of resembalnce to the brim of the Weiss youth's beret. Although the beret's brim
is more complex, rising in the front, dipping along the side and again rising
at the back, both brims extend the same distance from the forehead and back of
the head, and have the same contour except for the absence, in the portrait of
Armand, of the angular projection of the side brim at the back of the hat.
These similarities argue strongly for van Gogh's acquaintance with and use
of the Weiss painting. However, it should be noted that van Gogh could not have
known the original as he never visited Sigmaringen, but since the museum's holdings
were widely known, it is likely that a reproduction was available to him.
That van Gogh turned to such a model at this moment in his career is
certainly due to contact with synthetism. Yet this contact in itself does not fully
explain his usage. Van Gogh, in this instance, did not transpose a pose, gesture,
expression or setting, motifs that would expected to be carried from one
portrait to another. Rather, physiognomic traits were either paralleled or possibly
even transferred. Transferences would seem inappropriate if the purpose of a
portrait is to memorialize a specific individual. Appropriating traits seems
to deny the particular characteristics of the model, conflating a particular
identity with another’s. Why then, one might ask, did van Gogh utilize
such a model, literally identifying a Provençal youth of the late nineteenth
century with a young German burgher of the early sixteenth century? To answer
this question, an examination of his beliefs concerning portraiture and its relationship
to physiognomy and character, and his ambitions as a professional portraitist,
must be undertaken, as well as the estimation of German Renaissance painting
by van Gogh and his contemporaries.
In his letters, van Gogh often expressed admiration for German Renaissance
painters, specifically Hans Holbein the Younger, (14), Albrecht Dürer, (15)
and Lucas Cranach. (16) His esteem, founded on historical and artistic grounds,
was shared by his contemporaries. Holbein, universally admired, was judged the
counterpart of Raphael in the North. This belief was made manifest by the arrangement
of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie, opened in 1855. (17) In that museum, the
major schools of painting were hung on the first floor. In the right wing, were
the Italians, that is, the classicists, while in the left were the realists,
the Dutch, Flemish, German, and Spanish painters. At the end of each wing a room
was reserved forwhat was considered the representative work of each school, Raphael's Sistine
Madonna and Hans Holbein’s the Younger's Meyer Madonna.
Charles Blanc, the renowned French art historian, wrote in 1875 about
the display of these paintings:
“In the presence of these two masterpieces we can measure, for the sixteenth
century, the distance between religious painting as it was conceived by
the genius of the catholic south and christian art as it was felt by the northern
genius that had turned protestant.” (18)
The most admired part of Holbein's oeuvre, his portrait drawings, were considered
prototypical images. The constituents believed fundamental to art in the nineteenth
century--line and tone in the most exquisite balance to create likenesses both
individual and lifelike--acquired a special importance in the training
of artists. Discovered by Queen Caroline in a bureau drawer and placed on display
by her in Kensington Palace, they were greatly admired in the eighteenth century
by connoisseurs. George Vertue, for instance, declared that they were the greatest
treasure of this kind in England, " that I should esteem next to the cartoons
at Hampton Court of Raphael. (19) The drawings entered the public domain when
published in color facsimile in 1812. (20) Thereafter, their fame was secure.
Some measure of their importance can be judged by the fact that a popular manual
on drawing, Charles Bargue's Cours de dessin published in two
parts, in 1868 and in 1870, included among the sixty--seven reproductions
after the Old Masters more than a third by Holbein. (21) Van Gogh,
who owned Bargue, copied the plates as many as three times. (22) Already
predisposed to Holbein's portraits
which he especially singled out in a letter describing an excursion to Hampton
Court in 1876, his admiration became even greater when engaged in copying them.
Writing to Theo in 1880, he observed: "Those Holbeins in The Models from
the Masters are splendid. Now that I am drawing them, I feel it even more strongly
than before. But I assure you, they are not easy." (23)
Among van Gogh's progressive contemporaries who openly expressed approbation
in word and art for the German master were Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin,
Legros, Pissarro, and Seurat. Degas, according to Morisot, said that "the study of nature
is of no significance, for painting is a conventional art, and it is infinitely
more worthwhile to learn to draw after Holbein." (24) Degas followed his
own advice. He copied Holbein's Anne of Cleves in 1861—1862. (25)
This very same painting was the model for Gauguin's La Belle Angèle of
1889, a work purchased two years later by Degas, possibly because of
its reference to Holbein's painting. (26) Gauguin's admiration for
Holbein endured until the end of his life. A 1901 photograph taken
in Atuana shows a reproduction of Holbein's painting of his wife and
two children tacked on the studio wall beside pictures by Puvis and
Degas. (27) Legros and Seurat both copied Holbein portraits. Legros
painted a memory copy of Erasmus Writing and even portrayed
his father in a fashion patently based on the Erasmus.(28) Seurat's
copies are after Holbein's portrait drawings. Possibly his models derived
from the same drawing book that van Gogh employed, Bargue's Cours de dessin.
(29) Pissarro's regard for Holbein was voiced in 1883 when he called
him "the real master." Fifteen
years later, in 1898, he designed a color lithograph cover for a political pamphlet.
The design was based on the famous illustration Death and the Laborer from
Holbein's woodcut series The Dance of Death. (30) And as late
as 1906, Cezanne could wax enthusiastic about Holbein, exclaiming, "But one cannot
equal Holbein." (31)
As for the other German Renaissance painters mentioned by van Gogh,
and Cranach, they too were admired, but their artistic importance as models to
be emulated was never secured in France. Dürer, though praised, was not
ranked as a supreme master. (32) Cranach, in fact, was granted artistic and historical
primacy. (33) Credited with having broken with medieval shop methods and working
pragmatically, he was reckoned as the first Protestant painter because of his
intimate friendships with Luther and Melanchthon. (34) As Protestantism was associated
with realism and the emergence of secular subjects, Cranach was viewed as the
virtual inventor of naturalism; from him sprang a continuous tradition of realism
that flourished in the Dutch Republic of the seventeenth century and later burgeoned
in France in the nineteenth century.
Cranach's portraits in particular impressed van Gogh's contemporaries.
They admired their formal qualities and granted them a special historical
importance. Viardot, a leading critic of the 1860s, defined the latter,
writing: "The naturalism
of protestant painting is recognizable in these simple portraits that replaced
the forms consecrated by the catholic faith." (35) Degas seems to have had
the formal and historical features of these works in mind when, in his portrait
of the painter James Jacques Joseph Tissot (Fig. 4), dated 1868, he included
among the art works surrounding the sitter a copy of a portrait of Frederick
the Wise by Cranach. (36) The painting's centrality, its ornately
carved, gilded frame and its subject, a mature, bearded man, indicate
the primacy of this image among the others; it functions symbolically
and literally as a father figure, Tissot’s ancestor of Tissot, and by extension, Degas, too.
Degas was not the only "modern" painter to seriously examine Cranach.
Gauguin's and Bernard's self-portraits bear witness to their study of Cranach's
portraiture. The German master's simplification of form, his use of expressive
linear contours, spatial compression, a uniformly colored ground, lighter and
brighter than the figure, and the placement of the figures to the side of the
picture area are paralleled in the selfportraits (Figs. 5 and 6). (37)
On the basis of the evidence cited we may conclude that van Gogh was
certainly not unique insofar as his interest in the German Primitives
is concerned. His contemporaries shared the same enthusiasms and concerns.
But, though studying Holbein intensely from the onset of his career
as an artist, van Gogh did not actually "practice" primitive-inspired portraiture until his stay in
Provence, and even more specifically, until his contact with Gauguin and Bernard
intensified. (38) It was then, apparently, that van Gogh considered the artistic
options presented by the works of the Primitives more searchingly for his own
work. Their impact can be seen in portraits painted at about the same time as
the Boymans' canvas, for example, the bust portraits of Armand's father Joseph,
specifically the painting that depicts him before a green ground decorated with
geometrically ordered bouquets of flowers (Fig. 7). The design of this portrait,
especially its frontality, spatial constriction, absence of shadows, and
a quality that can be characterized as iconic, is reminiscent of sacred portraiture
of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. Furthermore, the background itself
brings to mind stylized floral motifs found in fifteenth-century paintings, as
in the Louvre Woman with Pansies (Fig. 8), which incidentally
was given to the museum by Ingres, (39) and Bellini's Fra Teodoro da Urbino as St. Dominic (Fig.
9), in the National Gallery, which, was undoubtedly known to van Gogh as
was the former. (40)
Van Gogh's serious study and use of the Primitives is thus well documented
for the period during which he painted the second portrait of Armand
Roulin. What remains to be explained is why van Gogh insisted on establishing such a
close parallel between the primitive prototype and the model he was painting.
As noted earlier, explication of this issue involves setting forth van Gogh's
broad views on portraiture and, additionally, his conception of himself
Let us briefly review the latter issue. Throughout his career, van
Gogh toyed with the idea of becoming a professional portrait painter in order to support
himself. (41) He was certain that an eager clientele existed not only among the
middle class and the wealthy but also in the working class. (42) But he also
recognized that photography was a strong competitor for a painter in this area.
To be daguerreotyped was commonplace. Inexpensive, exact, and requiring
only a brief sitting, photography had virtually destroyed the livelihood of miniaturists
who had sustained themselves by painting portraits. (43) Although van Gogh contemplated
working in a photographer's shop, retouching or painting over photographed portraits,
he felt a profound antipathy to photography. Rather than individuals, van
Gogh complained, cameras produced uniform likenesses. Features did not appear
idiosyncratic, and the general effect was cold and waxen. (44) Despite van
Gogh's oft-repeated wish to support himself as a portrait painter, he never carried
out his plan. His personality and his painting style militated against such
a source of income. His manner was so unconventional that only the naive
or the initiated could appreciate his work. Bitterly, he complained that potential
sitters, accustomed to academic norms, were fearful of being compromised and
mocked by their friends if they patronized him. (45)
Stylistically, van Gogh's portraiture can be divided into three phases
corresponding to the principal locations of his activity: the Netherlands,
Paris, and Provence-Auvers. In the Netherlands, the portraits were scientifically objective, physiognomic
studies of peasants. (46) That his interest was physiognomic is evident
from the description of the type of model he sought: "I want rough, flat
faces with low foreheads and thick lips, not sharp but full and Millet-like." (47)
The purpose of these portraits was two-fold. At this early stage van Gogh was
still a novice. These portraits gave him the opportunity to learn how to achieve
an accurate portrayal. Secondly, the portraits were preparatory studies for the
paintings of peasant life he was planning to execute. In Paris, his format underwent
a decisive change as did his intentions. Influenced by the ideas articulated
by Edmond Duranty in La Nouvelle Peinture, van Gogh depicted
his subjects full-length in characteristic poses and within contemporary settings. (48)
A third type of portrait developed in Provence. Van Gogh now sought to present
universal types in particular yet characteristic instances. (49)
What van Gogh meant by universal types and characteristic instances
is often explained in his letters. In 1883, for example, after rereading
Victor Hugo's Les
Misérables, van Gogh wrote to his brother that Hugo's
characters were "true" because
they were "the essence of what one sees in reality." Then he observed, "It
is the type-of which one only meets individuals. (50) To realize the objective
of conjoining the universal and the particular he sought models diverse in age,
sex, physiognomy, and occupation. He located his sitters against colorful, occasionally
patterned backgrounds to indicate neither a specific place or a spatial ambience.
They did relate, however, to the expressive aim of the portrait. Color during
this phase was not simply descriptive; it acquired an independent expressive
value. (51) A striking quality of these portraits is van Gogh's insistence
on depicting his model in occupational attire. Never does he dress his sitter
in an anonymous, "Sundaybest" suit. Clothes, as well as physiognomy,
were, he recognized, identifying traits of an individual. (52)
Although van Gogh's portraits underwent significant changes formally
and conceptually in these three phases, one concept was crucial to
all: character and its representation. Character was to the nineteenth
century what personality is to the twentieth. Character is "the sum of the moral and mental qualities which distinguish
an individual.” (53) Character, unlike personality, is judgmental. By the
nineteenth century, the concept of character was ubiquitous in the social sciences,
arts, and popular culture. To cite but one representative instance from
literature; William Hazlitt, the English author, neatly stated how character
is recognized in an 1822 essay entitled "On the Knowledge of Character”:
There are various ways of getting at a knowledge of character--by looks,
words, action. The first of these is perhaps the safest and least liable
to deceive A man's look is the work of years, it is stamped on his
countenance by the events of his whole life, nay, more by the hand
of nature and it is not got rid of easily. (54)
It was precisely such a look that van Gogh wished to capture in his
portraits. The notion that a face was the key to one's character was
an idea that had gained wide currency in the nineteenth century, especially
from the writings of Johan Caspar Lavater (1741-1801) and Franz Gall
(1758-1828) who aimed at making this venerable "science" modern and truly scientific. (55) According to
Lavater, physiognomy "teaches us to recognize the connection between the
exterior and interior ... of the animated and perceptible matter with the non-visible
principle which imparts on it its living character." (56) Franz Gall further
clarified the relationship between character and its physiognomic expression
in his science of physiognomy, known as phrenology. (57) Unlike Lavater, Gall
proposed a physiological theory to account for character. According to him, the
brain, the mind's seat, was subdivided into regions or organs having specialized
functions, each governing a faculty that in turn determined behavior and hence
character. Development of these organs varied from individual to individual,
some being more prominent, hence better developed, and others less so, indicating
a more primitive state of development. The organs could be recognized externally
by the surface "terrain," as one might call it, of the skull. (58)
Van Gogh's familiarity with the work of Lavater and Gall could be assumed
even without evidence, but in an early letter he in fact makes specific
reference to them. Writing to Theo from Brussels on November 1,1880,
he notes that he has read an excerpt from a book entitled Physiology and Phrenology by
Lavater and Gall in which is discussed "how character is expressed
in the features and in the shape of the skull. Although he did not refer to this
book again, the ideas presented in it certainly had a residual effect and were
most likely reinforced by art, literature, and popular culture. An instance
of the impact of physiognomic-phrenological theories can be found in a letter
to Theo written in November 1880:
“When I consider our temperament and type of physiognomy, I find similarity
and a very pronounced resemblance between, for instance, the Puritans and ourselves
besides. I mean the people in Cromwell's time or thereabouts ... If I mention
the Pilgrim Fathers, it is because of the physiognomy, to show you that certain
reddish-haired people with square foreheads are neither only thinkers nor only
men of action, but usually combine both elements. In one of Boughton's pictures
I know a little figure of one of those Puritans for which I should think
you has posed if I didn't know better. It is exactly, exactly the same physiognomy
... I can show you myself also, that is to say, that variation of the same physiognomy,
but my profile is less characteristic.” (60)
The passage cited is of utmost importance for the thesis presented
here as it proves van Gogh's familiarity with current theories of character
and physiognomy and demonstrates how he applied these theories in a
specific instance. One of his most important concerns as a portraitist
was the discovery and notation of physiognomic similarities among individuals.
Repeatedly in his letters van Gogh remarks on such resemblances. Sometimes he sought out a particular model
because the person reminded him of someone he knew: a Provençal peasant
who resembled his father; a man in Antwerp who called to mind Victor Hugo. (61)
Other times a person evoked memories of characters in pictorial, historical,
or literary works. An example of the first type, a pictorial association, is
found in his portrait of a fair-skinned, light-haired woman painted in Antwerp.
He wrote, "I am now looking for a blond model just because of Rubens." (62)
As for historical connections, Eugene Bock, the Belgian painter, was identified
with sixteenth-century types: "This Bock has a head rather like a Flemish
gentleman of the time of the Compromise of the Nobles. William the Silent's time
and Marnix's.” (63) Literature inspired his beautiful portrait of a young
Arlesienne girl entitled La Mousmé, the Japanese word
for "girl" which
he had learned from Pierre Loti's novel Madame Chrysanthème.
(64) Occasionally, more than one association was made. Van Gogh discovered
in the chief attendant at St. Remy a physiognomy and character akin
to the statesman François Guizot as well as to the man in Alphonse Legros' etching The
Spanish Grandee. He wrote:
Yesterday I began the portrait of the head attendant ... A very interesting
face, there is a fine etching by Legros, representing an old Spanish
grandee ... that will give you an idea of the type ... and there is
a sort of contemplative calm in his face, so that I can't help being
reminded of Guizot's face-for there is something of that in this head,
but different. (65)
Recognition of just such physiognomic resemblances must be considered
van Gogh's motive for conflating the physiognomies of the Weiss youth and Armand Roulin.
But he seems to have shown less interest in the specifics of their characters
than in the person as representative of the human condition. Though he wanted
to paint a "modern" portrait about which he wrote, "What impassions
me most--much, much more than all the rest of my metier--is the portrait, the
modern portrait. I seek it in color . . . which is the means to arrive at the
expression and intensification of character," (66) he sought qualities that
transcended particular eras: “people whom history tells us about,
doges of Venice, Crusaders, apostles, holy women, were of the same character
and lived in a manner analogous to that of their present descendants." (67)
Crucial to this intention was a belief in nature's regenerative capacity and
repetitive order. The life cycle--youth, maturity, old age--recurs in all hisotrical
periods, insuring the universality of significant experiences. As early
as 1876 van Gogh had expressed this idea in a sermon, the only one preserved
from his evangelical period:
“From infancy we grow up to boys and girls-young men and women-and if God
spares us and helps us, to husbands and wives, Fathers and Mothers in our turn,
and then slowly but surely the face that once had the early dew of morning, gets
its wrinkles, the eyes that once beamed with youth and gladness speak of a sincere
deep and earnest sadness.” (68)
Thus, not only did Weiss and Roulin agree physiognomically and, hence,
also presumably in character, but they were also maturational equals
confronting comparable situations in the cycle of life. Van Gogh was
to draw the same kind of parallel in 1890 when painting Mademoiselle Ravoux.
As pointed out by Cheltham, the girl's profile seems to be dependent
upon Holbein's portrait drawing of Anna Meyer, the young girl who appears
in the Meyer Madonna and who was about the
same age as the sixteen-year-old Ravoux girl. Van Gogh knew the portrait
drawing well, having copied it at least twice from the reproduction in Bargue's Cours
de dessin. (69)
If the Weiss portrait was van Gogh's inspirational "character likeness," what
then was his second source, the portrait schema? The latter seems to have been
discovered in his wellthumbed, thrice-copied Cours de dessin by
Charles Bargue. The schema (a proportional pattern) was found in the
first section of the Cours: Modeles d'apres Ie bosse.
The plates in this part have two figures, one depicting a plaster cast
in relief, the other, a line drawing of it without tone. Relationships
of forms are plotted by a few critical horizontals and by a vertical
axis. Many of the models or patterns reproduce famous portrait busts.
The schema in Bargue provided a generalized scaffolding upon which
van Gogh could apply details appropriate to his model. For designing
his portrait of Armand Roulin, he used the schematic figure from Plate
43 representing Faustina (Fig.
10), As this was the only three-quarter scheme appropriate to his desired
pose in Bargue. The fact that the model was female did not effect its usage.
It was, after all, the blueprint he employed, not the likeness. He treated it
as he had treated the Weiss portrait: he reversed the orientation of the figure.
In addition to the facial or portrait schema, Bargue was also the source
for the schemata of the nose, mouth, and chin. In plate 1 (Fig. 11)
profiles and three-quarter views of the lower half of the face are
drawn. It can clearly be seen that the first and second schemata in
row three, when reversed, provided the structure for this region of
van Gogh's portrait. Amendments to it were made as a consequence of
direct observation from the features of the Roulin youth.
The source van Gogh drew upon when designing the second portrait of
Armand Roulin reveal two different concerns. Bargue's figures helped
van Gogh to structure the forms he was studying; they provided the
schema that most artists learned in an academic setting. Van Gogh,
unable to function effectively in such surroundings, used instead a "textbook" by a recognized academic authority. The artist,
who relied on his own sensibilities, nevertheless required tools, the basic forms
of art, to realize his vision. Bargue supplied precisely these forms. The other
source van Gogh employed was the Weiss portrait, which did not supply a schema.
It did, however, thrust upon van Gogh's consciousness the fact of physiognomic
similarity between persons of different times and place and hence the existence
of a "character likeness." Van Gogh, ever alert to discover continuity
in mankind, was probably inspired by the very appearance of the sitter in the
older painting to portray the young Roulin so that their resemblances, physical
and moral, would be unequivocably evident.
Versions of this essay were presented at the graduate student lecture
series of Columbia University's Department of Art History and Archaeology
and at the 1981 Open Session of the College Art Association Meetings,
held in San Francisco. My thanks to Jack Flam, Paul Gianfagna, and
Leo Steinberg who kindly read this study and offered much helpful criticism.
Needless to say, the views expressed in this study do not necessarily
correspond to those of the readers.
1. See Foreword and Introduction by J.K.T. Varnedoe in Modern
Portraits, The Self and Others, New York, 1976.
2. For the roles of schema and source in the creative process, see
E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion. A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial
Representation, 2nd ed. rev., New York, 1961, and L. Steinberg, "The
Glorious Company," in Art Aboul Art, J. Lipman and A. Marshall,
New York, 1978, pp. 8-31. For sources and copies from Western art In
van Gogh's oeuvre, see especially: Van Gogh's Sources of Inspiration;
100 Prints From His Personal Coffection, The Brooklyn Museum, New York,
1971; Les sources d'inspiration de Vincenl van GOflh: Gravures,
estampes, tivres, fettres, documents du peintre, Institut Neerlandals,
Paris, 1972; H. Jafte, "Van Gogh en de Nederlandse schilderkunst
der zeventiende eeuw," Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek,
XXIII, 1972, pp. 363-71; A. Pickvance, English Influences on Vincent
van Gogh, University Art Gallery, Nottingham, 1974; C. Nordenfalk, "On
Van Gogh's Copies," reprinted from Vincent van Gogh: Imago
Imaginis in Van Gogh in Perspective, ed. B. Welsh·Ovcharov,
Englewood Clifts, 1974, pp. 156-158; C. Cheltham, The Role of Vincent
van Gogh's Copies in the Development of His Art, New York/London,
3. The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, 2nd ed., New York,
1978, II, p. 386, Letter no. 410. Hereafter cited as Letters.
4. For van Gogh's Provence period, see M. Roskill, Van Gogh, Gauguin
and the Impressionist Circle, Greenwich, Conn., 1970; J. Rewald, Post·lmpressionism,
From van Gogh to Gauguin, 3rd ed., rev., New York, 1978.
5. J.N. Priou, "Van Gogh et la famille Roulin," Revue
des PTT de France, 1955, pp. 26-32,
6. Letter no. 560 (III, pp. 101·02). This letter contains the
only reference to a portrait of the teenage Roulin. Unfortunately,
van Gogh did not give specific details. Although canvas size was stated,
15, this piece of information does not distinguish between the Essen
and Rotterdam paintings as their measurements are almost identical,
respectively 66 x 55 cm. and 65 x 54 cm. (measurements quoted from
de la Faille).
7. I believe that on the basis of style it is possible to determine
the sequence of the Essen and Rotterdam paintings, the Essen portrait
being painted first, the Rotterdam canvas, second. M. Schapiro, Vincent
van Gogh, New York, 1950, pp. 82, 84, proposed the reverse order,
but did not explicitly state his reasons. Rosklll, Van Gogh,
p. 153, though dating them both in December, believed that the Rotterdam
painting was the second. He characterized it as more "finished" and
believed that it manifested a sad, philosophic air that made it more
akin to Joseph Roulin's nature. Since van Gogh aimed at a certain unification
in the lamily portraits, according to Roskill, the Rotterdam canvas
was better suited to the program. Although I agree with Roskill's sequence,
I do believe that more time elapsed between the execution of the portraits
than he posited. The Essen painting employs an Impressionistic
facture, broken contours to define forms and highlights in eyes and
on the face. These are typical mannerisms of van Gogh's early Arles
period. Impressionism still strongly aftected his painting, and he
followed nature more exactly. La Mousmé, The Zouave,
and Postman Roulin (Boston) display these characteristics. Continuous
contours drawn with a firm line, coloristic unity and simplicity, and
the absence of shimmering highlights, relate the Boymans' portrait
with others executed In the fall of 1888, such as Madame Ginoux.
8. For this change, see Roskill, van Gogh, pp. 98ff; Rewald, Post Impressionism,
9. For synthetism, see H.R. Rookmaker, Synthetist Art Theories,
Amsterdam, 1959; W. Jaworska, Gauguin and the Ponl·Aven Schoof,
trans. P. Evans, Greenwich, Conn., 1972, pp. 227ff.
10. For the extraction of archaeological information from the Primitives,
see A. Strong, Recreating the Past. British Hislory and Ihe Victorian
Painter, New York, 1978. For a discussion of the appreciation and
collecting of the Primitives in the nineteenth century, see F. Haskell, Rediscoveries
in Art, Some Aspects of Taste, Fashion and Collecting in England and
France, 2nd ed. rev., Ithaca, New York, 1979, passim.
11. Among the synthetists, Emile Bernard was most alert to the pietistic
aspect of the Primitives. Van Gogh protested when Bernard went beyond
admiration to weak imitation. See, for example, a letter written in
early December 1889: Letters, B21  (III, pp. 521-25).
12. A contemporary Dutch critic, Johan de Meester, recognized that
Holbein's art played an important part in shaping van Gogh's work: "one
can readily see in his work admiration for the sentiment of Holbein
. . . several heads of girls and children possess the pure tautness
of a Holbein portrait." Quoted from "The Man Transcends the
Artist" by Johan de Meester, trans. and ed. by B. Welsh--Ovcharov
in Van Gogh in Perspective, pp. 61-62. De Meester wrote the
essay in 1891.
13. Frankfurt am Main, Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, inv. or. SG 457;
41.6 x 35.3 cm. Identification of family name established by coat of
arms on ring. Inscriptions on the sword: XXII jar was ich alt; WAS
LIEBT DAS FREIT. 1515; on dragon pendant: NOTH LEIT ER NIT. The painting
was in the Weyer (Weiher) collection, Cologne, no, 37. A. Sichel, a
correspondent for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, wrote a brief
account of the Weyer collection to draw attention to its Impending
auction: "Correspondance de Cologne," Gazette des Beaux-Arts,
XIII, 1862, pp. 83·86. Weyer, honorary architect of Cologne,
assembled the collection over a thirty--year period. "Le but principal
des ses recherches etait de reconstituer la suite hlstorique des
maitres de I'ecole de Cologne . . . Quelle bonne fortune pour Ie musée
qui voudralt acquerlr en bloc cette réunion sl penlblement laite
de maîtres primitifs devenus aujourdhui introuvables!"
Auctioned on August 25, 1862, the collection was purchased by Karl
von Hohenzollern. This prince had acquired a taste for the Primitives
under the tutelage of Carl Gustav Waagen, while studying in Berlin,
in 1831. His continuing interest in art inspired him to establish a
museum in Sigmaringen, which opened in 1867. The contents of the museum
were described in German and French periodicals and in catalogues and
guides published by the museum. The first catalogue of paintings was
published by the director F.A. von Lehner, Verzeichniss der Gemälde,
Sigmaringen, 1871. In the second edition, 1883, the Weiss portrait
was attributed to Dürer's school. For later literature, see F.
Rieftel, "Das Furstlich Hohenzollernsche Museum zu Sigmaringen," Staede/·Jahrbuch,
III· IV, 1924, p. 70; Kurzes Verzeichnis der im Staedelschen
Kunstinstitut ausgestellten Sigmaringer Sammlungen, 1928, cat.
1 and 2; G. Swarzenski, "Der Verkauf der Sigmaringer Sammlung," Zeitschrift
für bildende Kunst, LIII, 1928--1929, p. 274; L. Baldass, "Studien
zur Augsburger Portrait--Malerei des 16 Jahrhundert von Leonhard Beck," Pantheon,
IV, 1930, pp. 395f; O. Benesch, "Zu den beiden Hans Holbein," Zeitschrilt
für Kunstgeschichte, 10,1941-1942, p. 22; A. Stange, Deutsche
Malerei der Gotik, Berlin, 1957, VIII, p. 76; Malerfamilie Holbein
in Basel, Basel, 1960, pp. 80--81.
14. Van Gogh initially mentioned Holbein the Younger in letters posted
to Theo from Isleworth, England. The first, dated July 5, 1876, no.
70 (I, p. 62) describes an excursion to Hampton Court. Of the
paintings that he saw there, the first ones cited are Holbeins: " there
are many portraits by Holbein which are very beautiful. " In a
subsequent letter, no. 78 (I, p. 82), van Gogh reports that he is helping
to prepare for a lecture on the Reformation to be given by a clergyman.
He states that it will be illustrated " by a magic lantern with
slides of that period. I have already seen some of the pictures, they
are in the style of Holbein--you know that many of the painters and
graphic artists here work in that style. There was a very beautiful
picture of Luther’s marriage." Once having decided upon
the career of a painter, van Gogh, to train himself, copied Holbein
portraits. See, for example, letters no. 138 and 147. In letter 138
of November 1,1880 (I, pp. 210-11) he wrote to Theo: "Those Holbeins
in The Models from The Masters are splendid, Now that I am drawing
them, I feel it even more strongly than before. But I assure you, they
are not easy." Three of the copies after Holbein are extant. See
Cheltham, van Gogh's Copies, pp. 258, 262.
15. Van Gogh's earliest mention of Albrecht Dürer occurs in letter
no. 67, written from Ramsgate, England on May 31, 1876 (I, pp, 57--59).
In it, he compares a local view of a town to " the towns that
Albrecht Dürer used to etch." Two years later he dispatched
a letter from Amsterdam, no. 118 (I, pp, 160-61) in which he anticipates
a meeting with Theo: "When you come back here I should like to
look through the etchings by Dürer at the museum with you, the
way we did Rembrandt's last time." Dürer's perspective
frame was critical for van Gogh's knowledge and use of perspective: " I
have spent more on making an instrument for studying proportion
and perspective, the description of which can be found in a book by
Albrecht Dürer, and which the old Dutch masters also used." Letters,
no. 205 (I, p. 383).
16. Cranach was only mentioned twice by van Gogh in correspondence,
Writing to Bernard at the end of June, 1888, B8  (III, pp. 495--98),
he calls him a "naturalist"; later, in the same letter, he
associates Cranach with Dürer, Holbein, and Luther in a query: "Did
you ever read a life of Luther? For Cranach, Dürer and Holbein
belong to him. He--his personality---is the high light of the Middle
17. V. Plagemann, Das deutsche Kunstmuseum 1790-1870, Munich,
1967, pp. 131--44.
18. C. Blanc, Histoire des peintres de toutes les ecofes, I, Ecole
allemande, Paris, 1875, p. 12.
19. Note Books, Walpole Society, 20, 1932. P. Noon's essay in English
Portrait Drawings and Miniatures, Yale Center for British Art,
New Haven, 1979, p. xii, alerted me to this passage.
20. John Chamberlaine, in Portraits of Illustrious Personages of
the Court of Henry VIII. Engraved in Imitation of the Original Drawings
of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty by E. Lodge, London,
21. Charles Bargue (1825?-1883), Gérôme's pupil, never
exhibited in the Salon but he did show graphic work at the International
Exhibition of 1867, for which he received a medal. See "Charles
Bargue," by G. Geffroy in U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines
Lexikon der bildenden Kunstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart,
Leipzig, 1935, II, p. 496. Bargue published two instructional volumes: Cours
de dessin par C.B. avec le concours de J.L. Gérôme,
Paris, 1868-1870. Atlas I. Modèles d'après le bosse,
70 Iithogr., Atlas II. Modèles d'après les Maitres
de toutes l'epoques et de toutes les écoles, 57 lithogr.: Exercices
au fusain pour préparer a l’étude de l’Académie
d'après nature, Paris, 1871. Both of these works were used
by van Gogh, For the influence of Exercices au fusain, see A.S.
Wylie, "An Investigation of the Vocabulary of Line In Vincent
van Gogh's Expression of Space," Oud Holland, LXXXV, 1970,
pp. 210ff. For the influence of both volumes, see Cheltham, van
Gogh's Copies, passim.
22. Van Gogh first mentions copying Bargue's plates In a letter dated
September 7, 1880 from Cuesmes, no. 136 (I, p. 203): "I cannot
tell you the pleasure Mr. Tersteeg gave me by letting me have the Exercices
au Fusain and the Cours de Dessin Bargue for a while. I
worked almost a whole fortnight on the former, from early morning until
night and daily I seem to feel that it invigorates my pencil." A
few weeks later, September 24, 1880, no. 136 (I, p. 204), he wrote: "I
work regularly on the Cours de Dessin Bargue, and intend to
finish it before I undertake anything else, for each day it makes my
hand as well as my mind more supple and strong."
23. Letters, no. 138 (I, pp. 210-11), November 1,1880.
24. Quoted from J. Rewald, History of Impressionism, 4th ed.,
rev., Greenwich, Conn., p. 177, fn. 50.
25. See T. Reff, "New Light on Degas's Copies," Burlington
Magazine, CVI, 1964, pp. 250--59.
26, See the exhibition catalogue Gauguin and the Pont·Aven
Group, D. Sutton and R. Pickvance, Tate Gallery, London, 1966,
pp. 22--23. Theo described this painting to Vincent, Letters, T16 (III,
pp. 550--52), but did not remark on its prototype, Holbein's painting.
27. R. Goldwater, Paul Gauguin, New York [n.d.], p. 40.
28. For the Portrait of the Artist's Father, see the exhibition
catalog Alphonse Legros, Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts,
1957, p. 8; for the memory painting of Erasmus writing, see illustration
in National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculplure. Illustrations,
Washington, D.C., 1968, 64, 1472.
29. For Seurat's copies after Holbein portraits, see C.M, de Hauke, Seurat
et son oeuvre, Paris, 1961, I, pp. 22-23, nos. 283, 284.
30. See C. Lloyd, "Camille Pissarro and Hans Holbein the Younger," Burlington
Magazine, 117, 1975, pp. 722--26.
31, Quoted from J. Rewald, Paul Cezanne, trans. M.H. Liebman,
London [n.d.], p. 169.
32. Demmln in Blanc's Histoire, I, p. 2, wrote comparatively
od Dürer and Cranach: "Cranach, qui est un peu inférieur
a son maître comme dessinateur, mais qui I'a grandement dépassé par
Ie coloris et I'intelligence artistique. "
33. In Blanc's Histoire, I, "Cranach," Demmin thrusts
Cranach into a pivotal position: "D’une nature forte eloignée
du fantastique, Cranach représente Ie pelntre-graveur-colorlste
par excellence, I'artiste rompu au travail technique et Ie maître
enseignant par la pratique journalière."
34. This view is voiced in l. Viardot, Les Musées d'Allemagne,
3rd ed., Paris, 1860, pp. 180, 322.
35. Vlardot, Musées, p. 180.
36. For the Portrait of James Jacques Joseph Tissot, see C. Sterling
and M. Salinger, French Paintings. A Calalogue 0f the Coffection
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, XIX·XX Centuries, III,
Greenwich, Conn., 1967, pp. 62--64; J. Boggs, Portraits by Degas,
Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1962, p. 32; T. Reff, Degas: The Artist's
Mind, [NewYork], 1976, pp.101--10.
37. Gauguin not only considered Cranach's paintings and oriental imagery
as stylistic sources, but Italian Primitives as well. The very structure
of Gauguin's brows and nose is found in Byzantine and Italo-Byzantine
images of Christ and the saints of the thirteenth century. As Gauguin
identified himself with Jean Valjean, the Christ--like hero of Victor
Hugo's Les Misérables, this source would be particularly
apt. For Gauguin's description of this painting where he compares the
portrayal of his features to flowers in Persian rugs, see Lettres
de Gauguin à sa femme et à ses amis, ed. M. Malingue,
2nd. ed., rev., Paris, 1946, pp. 140f. Gauguin's profile portrait of
Emile Bernard in his self·portralt also manifests an interest
in Italian art of the fourteenth century. Bernard, drawn In brownish-red
on a green ground, calls to mind sinopia drawings and preparatory stages
In Trecento panel paintings, The very choice of profile rather than
a frontal or three-quarter view makes Gauguin's prlmitivizing intention
38. See Vincent van Gogh and the Birth of Cloisonism. An Overview,
B. Welsh· Ovcharov, Art Gallery 0f Toronto, Toronto, Canada,
39. See C. Sterling and H. Adhemar, Musées National du Louvre.
Peintures. Ecole française XIV, XV, XVI siecles, Paris,
1965, pp. 21·22.
40. In 1865, St. Dominic was purchased by the South Kensington Museum
(Victoria and Albert). See M. Davies, National Gallery Catalogues.
The Earlier Italian Schools, 2nd ed., rev., 1961, pp. 61--67.
41. For example, Letters, no. 433 (II, p. 435), no. 434 (II,
p. 439), no. 437 (II, p. 453), no. 438 (II, p. 455), no. 514 (II, p.
622), no. 638 (III, p. 278).
42. Letters, no. 433 (II, p. 436).
43. Letters, no. 441 (II, p. 461).
44. See A. Scharff, Art and Photography, rev. ed., Baltimore,
1974, pp. 42--47.
45. Letters, no. 439 (II, pp. 458--59).
46. Letters, no. 524 (III, p. 15).
47. Letters, no. 372 (II, pp. 298-99). Some characteristic examples
of this type are F70, F70a, F85, F163,
48. E. Duranty, La Nouvelle peinture: A propos du groupe d'artistes
qui expose dans les Galeries Durand Ruel (1876), ed. M. Guerin,
Paris, 1946, pp, 45f. For example, F369 Woman with Cradle, F370 Woman
Sitting in the Cafe Tambourin.
49. Van Gogh gives an example of his new intentions by describing a
portrait that he would like to paint; Letters, no. 520 (III,
50. An example of this concept applied to van Gogh's work is found
in a description of a village clergyman in a painting of a peasant's
funeral that van Gogh was planning. As a model for this figure, he
wanted his father to pose: " the figure essentially simplified
with intentional neglect of those details which do not belong to the
real character, and are only accidental. For it must not be a portrait
of Father, but rather the type of a poor village clergyman." Letters,
no. 299 (II, p. 77). .
51. Letters, no. 520 (II, p. 6): "instead of trying to
reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily,
in order to express myself forcibly." 52. Prior to the seventeenth
century, attire had been an identifying attribute, but by the latter
part of the century, classical art theory questioned the validity of
painting portraits with the sitter dressed In contemporary fashion.
See Roger de Piles' discussion of the pros and cons of each position
in his treatise Le Cours de Peinlure par principes, in Abregé de
la vie des peintres avec des refléxions sur les ouvrages, et
un traité du peintre parfait; De la Connoisance des desseins,
de I'utilité des Estampes. 2nd ed. revue et corrigée
par I'auteur avec un abregé de sa vie et plusieurs autres additions,
Paris, 1715, II, pp. 221f. Though many portraitists did not follow
the academically approved use of classical drapery, they nevertheless
dressed the sitter in fashionable, rather than professional attire.
Diderot In his Essays on Painting was critical of this approach signaling
a definitive change in portraiture. Diderot relates an anecdote about
a young man who was asked by his family how he wanted to have his father,
a smith (“ouvrier en fer”) portrayed. He suggested that
he be painted in " son habit de travail, son bonnet de forge,
son tabller." When the portrait was completed, the son was shown
the painting. His suggestions had not been followed. His father was
painted "avec une belle perrugue, un bel habit de beaux bas." The
youth complained: "Vous n'avez rien fait qui vaille, ni vous,
ni Ie peintre; je vous avals demandé mon père de tous
les jours, et vous m'avez envoyé que mon père de dimanches." Essais
sur la peinture. De la maniere. Pensées detachées
sur la peinture, la sculpture, l'architecture, et la poésie. Tableau
de nuit de Skalken (ed. R. Desne, Paris, 1955, p. 61).
53. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, I,
54. W. Hazlitt, Selected Essays of William Hazlitt, ed. G. Keynes,
New York/London, 1930, pp. 140--141. See, too, Hazlitt's essay of 1821, "On
Personal Character," in which he also discusses physiognomy, character,
and the inheritance of character.
55. See the preface by Chastel and Klein in Pomponius Guaricus,
De Sculptura, ed. A. Chastel and R. Klein, Geneva, 1969, for a
discussion of physiognomical literature.
56. J. C. Lavater, L 'Art de Connaitre les Hommes par sa Physionomie,
ed. Moreau de la Sarthe, Paris, 1820, p. 233: "La physiognomle
serait la science qui enseigne a connaître Ie rapport de I'extérieur
avec I'intérieur, de la surface visibles avec ce qu'elle embrasse
d'invisible, de la matière animée et perceptible avec
Ie principle non perceptible qui lui imprime Ie caractere de vie de
I'effet manifeste avec la force cachee qui Ie prodult." For Lavater,
see the article in Nouvelle Biographie Generale depuis les temps
les plus reculés jusqu'à nos jours, Paris, 1859,
57. For an excellent reassessment of Gall, see R. Young's biographical
essay in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, New York, 1972,
V, pp. 250-56.
58. For some examples of the impact of the ideas of Lavater and Gall,
see H. Witemeyer, George Eliot and the Visual Arts, New Haven,
1979, Chapter V, "Portraiture and the Knowledge of Character."
59, Letters, no. 138 (I, p. 211). The book van Gogh relerred to probably
is Alexandre Ysabeau's Lavater et Gall, Physiognomie et phrénologie
rendues intelligibles pour tout Ie monde, Paris, 1862. This is
the only French publication of the period whose title Is similar to
the one cited by van Gogh. See O. Lorenz, Catalogue Général
de la Librairie Française depuis 1840, Paris, 1924. VIII,
60. Letters, no. 338 (II, pp. 194--95). Exactly which one of
George Henry Boughton's works van Gogh was referring to is uncertain,
as Boughton painted numerous canvases and drew many illustrations for
novels and stories describing the early life of the Pilgrims. The most
famous of his canvases, depicting early American life, Early Puritans
of New England Going to Worship Armed to Prolect Themselves from Indians
and Wild Beasts, was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1867. Today
It hangs in the New York Historical Society, on loan from the New York
61. "I wanted to paint a poor old peasant, whose features bear
a strong resemblance to Father, only he is coarser, bordering on caricature." Letters,
no. 519 (III, p. 3). "I have succeeded in finding a model. I have
made two fairly big heads, by way of trial for a portrait. First, that
old man whom I wrote you about, a kind of head like Hugo's. " Letters,
no. 439 (II, p. 456).
62. Letters, no. 439 (II, p. 456).
63. Letters, no. 506 (II, p. 604).
64. Letters, no. 514 (II, p. 620).
65. Letters, no. 604 (III, p. 203). For the etching by Alphonse
Legros, see A Catalogue of the Etchings, Drypoints and Lithographs
by Alphonse Legros in the Collection of Frank E. Bliss, preface
by C. Dodgson, London, 1923, no. 28. A photograph of Guizot by Nadar
was in an exhibition reviewed in 1859 in the Gazetle des Beaux-Arts.
See B. Newhall, The History of Photography, rev. 4th ed., New
York, 1978, p, 51, illustrated on page 56.
66. Letters, no. W22 (III, p. 470).
67. Letters, no. 605 (III, p. 211).
68. Letters, I, p. 88. One senses In his exuberant exclamation
about the Roulin--family portrait series a similar sentiment: "But
I have made portraits of a whole family . . . . You know how I feel
about this, how I feel in my element, and that it consoles me up to
a certain point for not being a doctor." Letters, no. 560
(III, p. 101).
69. Cheltham, van Gogh's Copies, p. 223.
1. Vincent van Gogh, Armand Roulin, 1888. Oil on canvas,
25 x 21", Museum Boyman –van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Fig. 2. Vincent van Gogh, Armand Roulin, 1888. oil on canvas,
26 x 21-5/8. Folkwang Museum, Essen.
Fig. 3. Hans Holbein the Elder, A Twenty-two Year Old member of
the Weiss Family, 1522. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
Fig. 4. Edgar Degas, James Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1868. Oil
on canvas, 59-5/8 x 44". Metropolitan Museum of Arl, Rogers Fund.
Fig. 5. Paul Gauguin, Self—Portrait, 1888. Oil on canvas.
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Fig. 6. Emile Bernard, Self—Portrait, 1888. Oil on canvas.
Stedelijk Museum, amsterdam
Fig. 7. Vincent van Gogh, Joseph Roulin. 1888. Oil on canvas,
243/ x 20'/2". Rijksmuseum Kroller--Muller. Otleroo.
Fig. 8. Anonymous Spanish, Woman with Pansies, c. 1500. Musée
du Louvre, Paris,
Fig. 9. Giovanni Bellini, Fra Teodoro da Urbino as St. Dominic.
1515. National Gallery, London,
Fig. 10. Charles Bargue, Faustina (reversed). Plate 43: Cours
de dessin, Modèles d’après le bosse
Fig. 11. Charles Bargue, Facial Features (reversed). Plate 1: Cours
de dessin, Modèles d'après le bosse.
A note regarding the genesis of this paper: When I was a young child,
my bedroom was decorated with reproductions of paintings by various “moderns,” among
them Gauguin and van Gogh. Among the works of the latter were Wheat
Field with Cypresses (London, National Gallery) and Enclosed
Field with Reaper at Sunrise (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Both left
lasting impressions—the pictures perplexed and disturbed me,
yet they also gave me great pleasure as I contemplated roiling nature,
throbbing heat, space that expanded inexplicably, and where animate
wheat rustled as it matured beneath a radiant sun. Never did I forget
van Gogh, but when I chose to specialize in graduate school I did not
consider nineteenth and twentieth century art; rather, I turned to
earlier eras, and to problems associated with Flemish and Dutch culture
in the later middle ages and in the early modern period. These were
the areas of my expertise. What then brought me face to face again
with van Gogh? A wrenching contested academic situation that was settled
in my favor. To “reward” me for my success, the department
chairperson demanded that I teach a survey course on nineteenth and
twentieth--century art (1850—1930s), a course that all studio
and art--history majors were required to take. I had one week to prepare
for a course that I had never taught and knew not at all; moreover,
colleagues were hardly collegial. When I queried one “specialist” about
modernity and the modern, she was unable to give me a succinct helpful
answer, not, I believe, because of animosity, but because she seemed
not have resolved the matter herself. Faced with these difficulties,
I perservered, and read as extensively as I could to prepare for my
classes. To understand van Gogh, I decided to read the corpus of his
letters and master his oeuvre as well as those of his contemporaries.
From this immersion sprang the paper on Armand Roulin. Familiarity
with van Gogh’s writings also made me question the framing of
van Gogh’s paintings; too often these were set into weighty embellished
florid gold frames that signified wealth and commodification but made
poor Vincent writhe in his grave. I became an advocate of the painter’s
directions concerning framing. In short, adversity, while distracting
me from my specialization, brought me the gift of knowledge of a field
that though emotively familiar, was terra incognito insofar as scholarship
was concerned. Even from wicked deeds the good may be birthed.