Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890)
Oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 29 in. (92.7 x 73.7 cm)
Signed and dated (on arm of chair): vincent / arles 89; inscribed (lower right): La / Berceuse
The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1996, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1996.435)
Of the five versions of Van Gogh's portrait of Augustine Roulin, wife of his friend the postmaster of Arles, the present canvas is the one the sitter chose for herself. Van Gogh remarked that "she had a good eye and took the best." He began the portraits just before his breakdown in Arles, in December 1888, and completed them in early 1889. As he worked on the successive versions, the composition (which he titled La Berceuse, meaning "lullaby, or woman who rocks the cradle," indicated by the rope the sitter holds) took on added meaning. As he revealed in his letters, the maternal image became the locus of literary and symbolic associations, ranging from the writings of Dutch and French novelists to the consoling music of Berlioz and Wagner. Van Gogh envisioned La Berceuse as the center of a triptych, flanked by Sunflowers, like candelabra.