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The Roulin Family is group of portrait paintings Vincent van Gogh executed in Arles in 1888 and 1889 on Joseph, his wife Augustine and their three children: Armand, Camille and Marcelle. This series is unique in many ways. Although Van Gogh loved to paint portraits, it was difficult for financial and other reasons for him to find models. So, finding an entire family that agreed to sit for paintings — in fact, for several sittings each — was a bounty.
Joseph Roulin became a particularly good, loyal and supporting friend to Van Gogh during his stay in Arles. To represent a man he truly admired was important to him. The family, with children ranging in age from four months to seventeen years, also gave him the opportunity to produce works of individuals in several different stages of life.
Rather than making photographic-like works, Van Gogh used his imagination, colors and themes artistically and creatively to evoke desired emotions from the audience.
Camille Roulin, the middle child, was born in Lambesc in southern France, on 10 July 1877, and died on 4 June 1922. When his portrait was painted, Camille was eleven years of age. The Van Gogh Museum painting shows Camille's head and shoulders. Yellow brush strokes behind him are evocative of the sun.
To John Peter Russell. Arles, on or about Sunday, 17 June 1888.
My dear Russell
For ever so long I have been wanting to write to you — but then the work has so taken me up. We have harvest time here at present and I am always in the fields.
And when I sit down to write I am so abstracteda by recollections of what I have seen that I leave the letter. For instance at the present occasion I was writing to you and going to say something about Arles as it is — and as it was in the old days of Boccaccio.
Well, instead of continuing the letter I began to draw on the very paper the head of a dirty little girl I saw this afternoon whilst I was painting a view of the river with a greenish yellow sky.
This dirty ‘mudlark’ I thought yet had a vague florentine sort of figure like the heads in the Monticelli pictures, and reasoning and drawing this wise I worked on the letter I was writing to you. I enclose the slip of scribbling, that you may judge of my abstractions and forgive my not writing before as such.
Do not however imagine I am painting old florentine scenery — no, I may dream of such — but I spend my time in painting and drawing landscapes or rather studies of colour. The actualb inhabitants of this country often remind me of the figures we see in Zola’s work.
And Manet would like them as they are and the city as it is.
Bernard is still in Brittany and I believe he’s working hard and doing well. Gauguin is in Brittany too but has again suffered of an attack of his liver complaint. I wished I were in the same place with him or he here with me. My brother has an exhibition of 10 new pictures by Claude Monet, his latest works, for instance a landscape with red sun set and a group of dark firtrees by the seaside. The red sun casts an orange or blood red reflection on the blue green trees and the ground. I wished I could see them.
How is your house in Brittany getting on — and have you been working in the country?
I believe my brother has also another picture by Gauguin which is as I heard say very fine, two negro women talking. It is one of those he did at Martinique.
MacKnight told me he had seen a picture by Monticelli in Marseille, flower-piece.
Very soon I intend sending over some studies to Paris and then you can, if you like, choose one for our exchange.
I must hurry off this letter for I feel some more abstractions coming on and if I did not quickly fill up my paper I would again set to drawing and you would not have your letter. I heard Rodin had a beautiful head at the Salon.
I have been to the seaside for a week and very likely am going thither again soon. Flat shore sands — fine figures there like Cimabue – straight, stylish.
Am working at a Sower.
The great field all violet, the sky and sun very yellow. It is a hard subject to treat.
Please remember me very kindly to Mrs Russell — and in thought I heartily shake hands.
Yours very truly,