Augustine Roulin (La Berceuse)

When Van Gogh lived in Arles, he painted the portraits of the Roulin family. This is Madame Roulin, the wife of postman Roulin. He used bold colours agaist a vividly patterned background. The rope in her hands leads to a cradle. Vincent inscribed the title “La Berceuse,” which means both “lullaby” and “she who rocks the cradle.”

Vincent wrote about this paiting, of which he made five versions, to his friend Koning on January 22 or 23 1889:

“At present I have in mind, or rather on my easel, the portrait of a woman. I call it “La Berceuse,” or as we say in Dutch (after Van Eeden, you know, who wrote that particular book I gave you to read), or in Van Eeden’s Dutch, quite simply “our lullaby or the woman rocking the cradle.” It is a woman in a green dress (the bust olive green and grey skirt pale malachite green). The hair is quite orange and in plaits. The complexion is chrome yellow, worked up with some naturally broken tones for the purpose of modelling.

The hands holding the rope of the cradle, the same. At the bottom the background is vermilion (simply representing a tiled floor or else a stone floor). The wall is covered with wallpaper, which of course I have calculated in conformity with the rest of the colours. This wallpaper is bluish-green with pink dahlias and spotted with orange and ultramarine.

In this I think I have run pretty well parallel with Van Eeden and his style of writing, which consequently can be considered analogous to my style of painting in the matter of colours. Whether I really sang a lullaby in colours is something I leave to the critics, particularly to the aforesaid ones.”

Current location: Museum of fine arts, Boston, USA