Vincent van Gogh - La Berceuse. Augustine Roulin 1888

La Berceuse. Augustine Roulin 1888
La Berceuse. Augustine Roulin
Oil on canvas 92.0 x 73.0 cm. Arles: December, 1888
Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum

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From Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo:
In Arles, Van Gogh befriended the postmaster Joseph Roulin and his wife Augustine. He painted portraits of them and their three children. Here he depicts Augustine as ‘La Berceuse’, which means she who rocks the cradle or lullaby. She uses the string in her hand to rock her baby’s cradle.
Van Gogh has a special intention with this portrait. He is more interested in the atmosphere of the painting than in the likeness of Madame Roulin. Augustine is a symbol of motherhood. The title and the colours, like the musical notes in a lullaby, are intended to evoke a feeling of comfort and warmth in those who see the painting.
The darker background is strewn with simplified depictions of dahlias. Van Gogh painted this portrait in the first months of 1889. He often used a floral motif as background during this period, but later it no longer appears in his oeuvre.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 8 or Monday, 9 July 1888.
My dear Theo,
I thank you for your letter and the 50-franc note that was enclosed with it. About the Tanguy business, don’t get involved in it. Only I beg you not to risk the new paintings that are at his place, so take them back as a response to the fact that he presented you with an account and asked for a down payment. Bear in mind that you’re dealing with the Tanguy woman — and if not, if HE behaves like that then it’s the case that he’s dealing dishonestly towards me. Tanguy still has a study of mine that he thought he could sell. I owe him it, if it comes to it, but I don’t owe him a sou in money. To get into an argument about that is to argue with mère Tanguy, which no mortal should be obliged to do. According to them (the Tanguys), Guillaumin, Monet, Gauguin, all owe them money; is that true or not?? In any case, if they don’t pay, why should I pay? I regret having wished to get colours from him again to please him, he can expect that in future I won’t get any more from him. With mère Tanguy, who’s poisonous, it’s a question of doing it on the quiet — I beg you to take back my new paintings. And that’s enough.
Tanguy’s zinc white at 40 centimes is a little dearer than Tasset’s large tubes (at 1.50 francs), which contain at least 4 times as much.
Leave Tanguy the study he has of Asnières — a bank of the Seine. It’s his, if it comes to it — but kick him out afterwards — and without mercy.
If you made a down payment — but that would be to acknowledge a debt that I dare deny. Never — so don’t let yourself be taken in. The only thing I actually owe is to Bing. In the sense that there are still 90 francs worth of Japanese prints on commission. But if we take into account that I’ve often sent people directly to Bing, it would be better that Bing leave us that, and if I was still there to deal with it, I’d wish to increase the stock so as to be able to do slightly more important business in them.
And if I don’t ask Bing for a commission, it’s precisely that I would bring it up in case of claims. That’s to tell you that other claims would probably have no merit.
At the moment I’m concentrating on doing something to enhance the value of my paintings. You know I have only one means of achieving that end — it’s to paint them. But I say to myself that if I manage to do 50 studies at 100 francs this year I shall in a certain sense not have done a great injustice by eating and drinking as if that was a right. Now that’s a bit steep, because although at this moment I have about thirty painted studies, I don’t reckon them all at that price.
All the same, there must be some out of all of them. But — the costs of executing them make me very, very poor even so — I wouldn’t press the point if people didn’t come, like our friend(?) Tanguy, asking for down payments when the debt is dubious in the extreme. Whatever money you might have at your disposal for this purpose, well, I’d have the greatest possible need of it.
I go without many things — not that I consider that a misfortune, but I consider that my money that I’ll need in future depends to some extent on the vigour of my efforts at present. They quibbled with me at the post office, saying that the drawings I was sending you were too big to be sent that way.
I have two large new ones. When there are 6 I’ll send them by rail, in a roll.
I say to myself that if the studies are hard to dry here in the heat, they’d be all the harder to dry at your place. And that’s making me delay the consignment.
I’ve scraped off one of the large painted studies. A Garden of Olives — with a blue and orange Christ figure, a yellow angel — a piece of red earth, green and blue hills. Olive trees with purple and crimson trunks, with grey green and blue foliage. Sky lemon yellow. I scraped it off because I tell myself it’s wrong to do figures of that importance without a model.
Of course — it would be better in my opinion too if Gauguin came here — for that reason of the coming winter. Still no reply from Russell. That Boch is still staying with MacKnight, and he’s working hard, it seems. But I haven’t seen anything yet. He’s a lad whose outward appearance I like very much. Face like the blade of a razor, green eyes, and distinction with all that. MacKnight seems very coarse beside him.

After what you told me about him, I’m going to see him this afternoon. MacKnight has picked up a chancre from a fat woman where I was going at the same time, just by sheer luck I was careful — but what’s the use of being careful, since you can’t do anything and since after all, all’s always for the best in the best of worlds? I read that Bing’s holding a Japanese exhibition and publishing a magazine on Japanese art. Have you seen that? At times I find it terrible not to be able to get a whole lot more Japanese prints. Well, we ought to try to do them ourselves instead. Have you read Loti’s book, Madame Chrysanthème? Very interesting. I have to tell you exactly the same thing today as last Thursday, the end of the week will be very tight, if you can send the next letter a day or two earlier, so much the better.
Have you been able to find that book, A. Cassagne, ABCD du dessin? I really will need it.
Mourier should definitely buy one for himself. I’ll write to Russell again, while at the same time thinking I’d do better to wait for his reply. But I’ll write this evening anyway, and that’s just why I’ll go and see his friends MacKnight and Boch, to be able to talk about them and have an opportunity to say something to him before he replies to me. If the other 4 drawings I have in my head are like the first two I have, then you’ll have the epitome of a really beautiful corner of Provence.
It’s good of Guillaumin to have come to have a look, I’m very sensitive about it, but in short, I’m unhappy with everything I’m doing. Why move around a lot? When I see the orchards again won’t I be more hardened, won’t it be like something new, a new attack, in the new season, on the same subject? And the same throughout the year, for the harvest, for the vineyards, for everything.
I’d like to send you the 30 studies at this moment, so that it may perhaps help with the costs to be found in order for Gauguin to come. It’s very good, what Schuffenecker’s done. And père Thomas — he really ought to buy from me or from Gauguin for a hundred francs — then we’d be nearly there. What’s Bing’s exhibition like? If you happened to see their manager there, tell him I’m here and that I ask him to leave my stock alone, and that if I was there I’d go to more trouble for him. The Lautrecs have just arrived; I find them beautiful.
More soon, I’ll write to you again in the next few days — but don’t fall for the Tanguy woman’s trick, because it’s not fair and it upsets me that père Tanguy should behave like that. You can be sure that if I owed him I would say so but there are other conditions, such as that I’ll never pay him in money and that he still has NO MORE THAN AN AMICABLE right to the paintings.
Ever yours,

Just you watch, Bernard will have the same story with the Tanguys, only worse.