GOGH, Vincent van
(b. 1853, Groot Zundert, d. 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)
La Berceuse (Augustine Roulin)January 1889, Arles
Oil on canvas, 93 x 73 cm
Art Institute, Chicago
Catalogue numbers: F 506, JH 1670.
The portrait of the postman's wife, recently delivered of her third child, was planned in late 1888 but only completed, after some interruptions, in early 1889. The conception of the painting, originally one of the series of family portraits, changed as a result of Gauguin's visit in the autumn of 1888. In it van Gogh examined an alternative strategy for infusing a portrait with complex meanings. He gave the portrait a title, La Berceuse, which can mean both the woman who rocks the cradle and the lullaby she would sing beside it. Madame Roulin is represented primarily as the mother; she holds a crate rope between her hands.
La Berceuse was a significant work for van Gogh. He painted five versions of it, one of which was taken by the sitter. He offered versions to Gauguin and Bernard and suggested a special setting for the painting, flanked by twin canvases of sunflowers whose brilliant yellow warmth was to underscore the feeling of gratitude which the painting was intended to convey. However, when he later turned his back on Gauguin and Bernard and the ideas they had encouraged him to pursue, van Gogh also rejected this portrait, one of the most elaborated and sententious he had produced.