The present painting is one of six extant portraits by Van Gogh of Madame Ginoux, the proprietor of a café in the town of Arles, where the artist lived from February 1888 until May 1889. Two of the Arlisienne portraits, now housed in the Musée d'Orsay and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were executed during Van Gogh's stay at Arles, a period that has been described as "the zenith, the climax, the greatest flowering of Van Gogh's decade of artistic activity." (1) The remaining examples, of which the present canvas is the only one remaining in private hands, were painted in February 1890, several months after Van Gogh's departure from Arles and while in voluntary confinement in a hospital at neighboring Saint-Rémy. They were based on a portrait drawing of Madame Ginoux that Gauguin had made at Arles, during a brief period of intense aesthetic exploration in which the two artists lived and worked side-by-side. Both an homage to Gauguin and a meditation upon Van Gogh's own anguished mental state, the 1890 Arlésiennes are among the most powerful and moving documents of the painter's final two years. As Douglas Druick has written, "Vincent intended the Arlésiennes as a symbolic summation of what he believed he and Gauguin had worked for together: a distilled humanist image, expressive of the enlightened, modern consciousness he now referred to as 'grief nearly smiling.'" (2)
Van Gogh left Paris for Arles in February 1888. In a letter to his brother Theo the following year, he recalled the impetus for his move: "My dear brother, you know that I came to the South and threw myself into my work for a thousand reasons. Wishing to see a different light, this stronger sun, because one feels that the colors of the prism are veiled in the mist of the North." (3) At Arles, Van Gogh was immediately struck by the women of the town, who were celebrated both in travel guides and contemporary literature for their traditional costume and classical beauty. Gustave Flaubert, for instance, extolled "the women of Arles! With their skirts, their comportment, their robust and svelte stature, they resemble the antique Muse." (4) When Gauguin arrived at Arles in October 1888, Van Gogh insisted that they spend his first day there "walking about so that I might admire the beauty of Arles and of the Arlésiennes." (5) Gauguin apparently agreed with Van Gogh's assessment. The latter painter reported that his companion was "above all things intrigued by the Arlésiennes." (6) Gauguin, likewise, wrote to Emile Bernard that the local women, with their elegant hairstyles and ample shawls, reminded him of figures seen in procession on ancient sculpture and vases--proof, he believed, that his new surroundings would enable him to pioneer what he described as a "beautiful modern style." (7)
Although Van Gogh had met with difficulty in persuading the women of Arles to pose for him, Gauguin had "already all but found his Arlésienne" within a week of his arrival in the town. (8) The model in question was Marie Ginoux. She and her husband Joseph were the proprietors of the Café de la Gare, located at 30 place Lamartine in Arles. Van Gogh had lodged the Ginouxs from May until his move four months later to the so-called Yellow House, just a block away. In early September, Van Gogh immortalized the establishment owned by the Ginoux in Un café de nuit (de la Faille no. 463; Yale University Art Gallery New Haven, Connecticut), explaining to Theo, "It's what they call a 'night café' around here. They're quite common, they stay open all night. So 'night prowlers' can find refuge when they don't have enough for a room or are too drunk to be given one." (9) To Bernard, he wrote that the café also "lets its rooms by the hour and from time to time you see a tart sitting there with her bloke," but it was not, he hastened to add, a brothel. (10) Following Gauguin's arrival at Arles, the two artists continued to frequent the Cafi de la Gare, taking nearly all their meals there.
Madame Ginoux posed for Van Gogh and Gauguin some time during the first week of November. Dressed in full Arlésienne regalia, she sat in the front room of the Yellow House, which served as the artists' studio. During this single session, Gauguin produced a large charcoal drawing of the forty-year-old Madame Ginoux, her hand resting on her cheek (fig. 1). Van Gogh, in turn, portrayed the model in vivid color, seated in an upright wooden armchair with her gloves and parasol resting on the table before her (fig. 2). In a letter to Theo dated November 5th or 6th, Van Gogh described this painting: "I have an Arlésienne at last, a figure (size 30 canvas) slashed on in one hour, background pale citron, the face gray, the clothes black, black, black, with very harsh Prussian blue. She is leaning on a green table and seated in an armchair of orange wood." (11) Gauguin used his portrait drawing as the basis for a painting of the Café de la Gare, completed during the second week of November (Wildenstein no. 305; Pushkin Museum, Moscow). Probably during November as well (though possibly later in his stay at Arles), Van Gogh made a second version of his Arlésienne, which may have been a gift to Madame Ginoux to repay her for posing (fig. 3). The later painting is characterized by bolder color contrasts and more emphatic contours than the first, and the parasol and gloves have been replaced by a stack of books.
Gauguin's nine-week stay at Arles came to an abrupt end in late December 1888, when Van Gogh suffered an attack of mental illness (the well-known episode in which he severed part of his own ear). Gauguin returned to Paris; Van Gogh remained at Arles until May of the following year, when he moved voluntarily to an asylum at nearby Saint-Rémy. In February 1890, Van Gogh returned to the motif of the Arlésienne, making five oil paintings based on Gauguin's 1888 portrait drawing of Madame Ginoux, which the latter artist had left behind at Arles. One of these paintings has been lost, and one is the present canvas. The remaining three are all housed in prominent museum collections: the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome (F. 540), the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller in Otterlo (F. 541), and the Museu de Arte de São o Paulo (fig. 4).
The impetus for Van Gogh's second Arlésienne series was a confluence of significant events in early 1890. In mid-January, Van Gogh made his first visit to Arles in several months, where he found Madame Ginoux "much changed" by a difficult menopause that caused "nervous attacks," as he reported to Theo. (12) Upon his return to Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh wrote to Madame Ginoux, pondering the mysteries of illness and health: "What makes us ill and bowed down by our despondency today is the same thing that gives us the strength to get up the next day with the will to recover." (13) Shortly thereafter, Van Gogh himself fell ill for a week, an episode which reinforced his empathy for Madame Ginoux. On January 28th, just as he was beginning to recover, he received a letter from Gauguin suggesting that the two artists consider living together again--a development that Van Gogh had expressed hopes for several months earlier, writing of the "aching void" that he felt for his erstwhile friend and colleague. (14)
In early February, Van Gogh began work on the new paintings of Madame Ginoux, which drew heavily on Gauguin's drawing for pose, costume, and facial expression. Around the 20th of the month, he mentioned the project to his sister Wil: "I'm working on a portrait of an Arlé sienne, and am trying to achieve an expression different than that of the Parisiennes...so sad, so moved, almost smiling." (15) Of the four surviving versions the composition, three are nearly identical, featuring Madame Ginoux in a black dress with a white bodice, seated at a green table against a background of diagonal pink strokes. On the table are two books with clearly legible titles: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Dickens' Christmas Stories. The present painting differs from the other three both in palette and in brushwork. The dress is pink with a pale green bodice, and the background is comprised of cream-colored strokes in a basket weave pattern overlaid with delicate floral ornamentation. In all four versions, the crisp angularities and acidic hues of Van Gogh's 1888 Arlésiennes have been jettisoned in favor of rounded forms and silvery pastels that make the sitter seem older and more sedate. Comparing the 1890 series to the earlier portraits, Judy Sund comments:
The paintings are at once the revised image of a changed friend and a reflection of the artist's own illness and his attempts to cope with it. As portrayed by Van Gogh in 1890, the Arlésienne seems a different person from the woman depicted some fifteen months before, and while the gap between his images of her surely reflects illness-induced changes in the model's appearance, it likewise indicates the artist's altered state. As before, he bent Ginoux's demeanor to a mental construct: that of an ideal female companion and counterpart. Before the onset of his illness, the desired entity was a reflective intellectual with a taste for modern literature (a far cry, no doubt, from the person Ginoux actually was), but in the aftermath of his breakdown (as he experienced 'a tempest of desire to embrace a woman of the domestic hen type'), the feminine touchstone of his mind's eye became softer and more maternal (compare La Berceuse of January 1889) and by early 1890 took on aspects of the fellow sufferer van Gogh perceived Ginoux to be. (16)
On February 22, 1890, Van Gogh went to Arles with one of the new Arlésienne portraits, most likely intending to present it to Madame Ginoux herself. While he was there, he suffered another attack, recounted in a letter to Theo from Dr. Peyron, director of the asylum in Saint-Rémy: "I was obliged to send two men by carriage to Arles to pick him up, and there is no way of knowing where he spent Saturday night. He had taken the portrait of a woman from Arles with him; it has not been recovered." (17) One of the artist's longest episodes of illness followed, lasting until the end of April. In a letter to Gauguin later in the year, Van Gogh associated this collapse with his work on the Arlésienne series, writing that he "paid for doing it with another month of illness, but I also know that it is a canvas that will be understood by you and by a very few others, as we would wish it to be understood." (18)
When his health had returned, Van Gogh sent three of the four surviving versions of the portrait to Theo, with instructions that one should be dispatched to Gauguin as a gift. The wallpaper in the present example is very similar to that in a self-portrait that Gauguin had made for Van Gogh in September 1888 (W. 239; Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam), and it has been suggested that it may have been the version that Van Gogh intended for his fellow painter. (19) There is no evidence, however, that the present painting ever belonged to Gauguin. Instead, Theo seems to have kept it for his own collection. Van Gogh referred to this version in a letter to Wil dated June 1890, which was accompanied by a sketch (fig. 5): "In the copy which is in Theo's possession the dress is pink, the background yellowish white, and the front of the open bodice is of muslin of a white color merging into green. Among all these colors only the hair, the eyebrows and the eyes form black spots." (20) It is also possible that the present painting is the Arlésienne that Gauguin saw at Theo's apartment in May or June 1890; he declared it "very beautiful and very curious," adding, "I like it better than my drawing." (21) Van Gogh wrote in response, "I'm absolutely delighted to hear that you like the Arlésienne portrait, which I based strictly on your drawing. I tried to be faithful to your drawing, respectfully so but taking the liberty of interpreting the sober character and style of the drawing in question by the use of a color. It is a sort of synthesis of our Arlésienne, if you will; and since such things are quite rare, take it as a work by you and by me, as a summary of our months of work together." (22)
Van Gogh kept one of the 1890 portraits of Madame Ginoux for himself, taking it with him when he moved from Saint-Rémy to Auvers in May of that year. At Auvers, the painting made a powerful impression on the homeopathic physician, Dr. Paul Gachet, who linked it to a self-portrait by Van Gogh that he also particularly admired (F. 627; Musée d'Orsay, Paris): "He always comes back to these two portraits when he comes to see the studies," Van Gogh wrote to Theo, "and he understands them exactly, exactly, I tell you, as they are." (23) When Van Gogh painted Dr. Gachet's own likeness in June of 1890, he drew heavily on the Arlésienne portraits, repeating the melancholy pose and the display of books on the table (fig. 6). As Sund has concluded, "Joined in the artist's mind by his empathy with their sufferings, Ginoux and Gachet, who never met, are forever coupled by the portraits made of them." (24)
L'Arlésienne and the Craft of Weaving in Van Gogh's Work
By Madeleine Clay
Among the four extant portraits of Madame Ginoux that Van Gogh painted in February 1890, the present version is distinguished both by palette and facture. The other three versions, which are nearly identical, all depict the model clad in a black dress with a white bodice, the traditional costume of an Arlésienne. She is seated at a green table against a pink background, which is painted with evenly spaced, diagonal brushstrokes. In the present painting, by contrast, the dress is pale pink, the bodice mint green, and the background is comprised of thick, cream-colored strokes applied in a prominent cross-hatch configuration and overlaid with delicate floral patterning. The distinctive, interlocking facture that Van Gogh used for this version of the portrait is not merely a decorative motif. Rather, it is a mature manifestation of the artist's life-long interest in the craft of weaving, intentionally evoking the warp and weft of woven fabric or canvas. The goal of this essay is to explore this aspect of the painting, one of many levels of meaning that interact to make the portrait one of Van Gogh's most compelling late works (25).
Van Gogh's attraction to weaving dates to the very beginning of his career as an artist. In 1884-1885, he spent several months observing weavers at their looms in Nuenen, a small village in Holland where his parents had recently moved. The weavers, who comprised eighty percent of Nuenen's working population at the time, were mainly engaged in making brightly colored, striped and checkered materials called bontjes. Van Gogh, in turn, made at least thirty images in varying media documenting these skilled artisans absorbed in their craft (see previous page). (26) At the same time that he was scrutinizing the production of colored cloth, Van Gogh was also reading the work of Michel Chevreul, author of the most important books on color theory for nineteenth-century painters. The director of the Gobelins Tapestry Works, Chevreul devised his schema of complementary and contrasting colors based on experiments with dyed fibers and fabric. Van Gogh's letters from this period indicate that he too explicitly linked the process of weaving with the artist's efforts to achieve certain effects of pattern and color. In 1885, he wrote to his brother Theo, "When the weavers weave that cloth, the peculiar Scottish plaid, then you know their aim is to make the most vivid colors balance each other. But for the weaver, or rather the designer of the pattern or combination of colors, it is not always easy to determine his estimation of the number of threads and their direction, no more than it is easy to blend the strokes of the brush into a harmonious whole. All winter long I have had the threads of this tissue in my hands, and have searched for the ultimate pattern; and though it has become a tissue of rough, coarse aspect, nevertheless the threads have been chosen carefully and according to certain rules." (27) In 1886, Emile Bernard observed Van Gogh experimenting with color effects by unrolling skeins of dyed yarn on his work table in Paris and arranging them in "unexpected interlacing tonalities." (28) The red lacquered box in which Van Gogh kept his collection of colored yarn is now housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
During the last three years of his career, the legacy of weaving was inescapable in Van Gogh's visual language. He was repeatedly drawn to woven objects as subjects for composition: straw hats, shawls and textured clothes, wicker chairs, thatch-roofed cottages, and so on. He also experimented with canvases of differing weaves. In October and November of 1888, for instance, he worked on a heavy and minimally primed jute that Gauguin had purchased shortly after his arrival at Arles, the coarse texture of which remained visible beneath the paint surface. On occasion, Van Gogh even painted on untreated surfaces such as linen towels and cotton bed sheets, using the woven texture of the cloth as part of his composition. An example of this is Wild Flowers and Thistles of 1890 (fig. 7), which was painted on a red-striped linen hand towel of the sort seen hanging in the artist's paintings of his bedroom at Arles (F. nos. 482-484). Weaving also provided the compositional structure for many of the artist's late landscapes, particularly his panoramic views of the wheat fields at Auvers (fig. 8). Van Gogh rendered the broad, flat plains as complex checkerboards of color, the blocks of pigment deliberately interlocking like the warp and weft of fabric. Within each unit, he applied the paint in thick, textured strokes that suggest the individual threads or fibers of this intricately woven field.
In L'Arlésienne, Van Gogh employed yet another strategy for translating the weaver's craft into the language of painting. The cream-colored background is comprised of thick, interlocking brushstrokes that seem to magnify the warp and weft of the canvas itself. The paint surface, in other words, replicates the woven qualities of the support, as though the latter had been rewoven in pigment. The use of hatched intersections in the background of a painting to rearticulate the coarse weave of the canvas is a device that Van Gogh first tested in a series of portraits from 1887-1888. These include La Mousmé (F. 431; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Portrait de Joseph Roulin (F. 432; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; cf. F. 1458 for a version in ink), and especially L'Italienne (fig. 9), where the weave of the sitter's costume is also replicated through interlaced, colored strokes. At Saint-Rémy and Auvers in 1889-1890, Van Gogh continued his exploration of the cross-hatched background in paintings such as Vase with Rosemallows (F. 764a; Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam), Adeline Ravoux (fig. 10), and the present Arlésienne. In these late examples, Van Gogh heightened the impact of the distinctive, interlocking facture by applying the paint in broader, thicker strokes than he had previously. The surface is built up as a dense, patterned deposit of interwoven brushstrokes, rendering the image itself as tangible and textural as the canvas on which it was applied.
Van Gogh's interest in the visual language of weaving during the last years of his career may also be linked more generally to his life-long identification with the craftsman or laborer. In his letters to Theo from Nuenen in 1884-1885, he repeatedly expressed the view that active work was the path to grace, describing the weavers and peasants of the town as "useful, honest, and productive." (29) Moreover, he associated the arduousness of his own artistic activity with the redemptive production of the peasant working the soil: "I keep my hand to the plow and cut my furrow steadily." (30) In paintings such as L'Arlésienne, the tactile, textured application of paint transforms the image into a tangible craft product, comparable to the output of the weaver at his loom. During his stay at the asylum at Saint-Rimy, moreover, Van Gogh undertook an ambitious program of copying from prints, translating them into colored paintings. Between September 1889 and May 1890 (the same time that he was at work on the Arlésienne portraits, themselves based on a drawing by Gauguin), he made more than twenty canvas versions of prints after Millet, the majority depicting peasants at work, as well as adaptations of images by Rembrandt, Delacroix, and Daumier. (31) While Van Gogh admitted that he made the copies in part for his own pleasure, he also saw this endeavor as a means of honing his artistic skills through practice and repetition, much as a craftsman would: "Misfortune is good for something," he wrote to Theo, "you gain time for study." (32)
The Impassioned Reader:
Literature in the Life and Art of Vincent van Gogh
by John Steinert
Two books lay stacked on the tabletop in front of Mme Ginoux in Vincent's portrait of her, in the present painting and in the other three extant versions. They are clearly titled in each of the canvases: 'Ch Dickens Contes de Noël,' the English novelist's much-loved Christmas Stories, and 'Beecher Stowe La Case de l'Oncle Tom,' the American author's popular anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Books appear in fifteen of Vincent's paintings and a half-dozen drawings done between 1882 and 1890, including some of his best-known works. Their inclusion always contained special significance for the artist, and was intended to convey a message to his sitter and the viewer as well.
The prose in Vincent's abundant letters is direct and unmannered, but it is uncommonly articulate and absorbingly pictorial for someone who did not write professionally, even in that great age of letter-writing. This suggests that the artist was an avid reader, which is indeed the case. In True to Temperament, her engrossing and comprehensive study of Van Gogh's relationship to French Naturalist literature, Judy Sund has noted that Vincent mentioned more than two hundred titles in his letters (33), sometimes commenting on them at length or only briefly in passing, including works by many of the leading and progressive authors of his day. Vincent proudly professed to his brother Theo a "more or less irresistible passion for books" and declared that "the love of books is as sacred as the love of Rembrandt" (Letter T 133; July 1880). Vincent was perhaps the best-read of the artists in his circle. He relished contemporary fiction, and must have spent long hours alone with a book in hand, deeply involved in his reading. Considering his prodigious activity as a painter and draughtsman, and as a letter-writer as well, all compressed within a tragically short span, one wonders when he found the time to read so widely, and intently.
Vincent's early taste in fiction reflected his youthful pietism and crusader's zeal on behalf of the poor and oppressed - he attempted in 1879 to become a lay evangelist minister. The novels of Dickens and Beecher Stowe, who dealt with the moral and social issues of the times, became his favorite reading, together with the Bible. His English sojourn in 1876 reinforced an attraction to the mid-century Victorian novelists, George Eliot especially. It was not until Vincent moved to The Hague in 1882 to study painting with Anton Mauve that he first encountered French Naturalist literature, the richly pictorial and compellingly realistic novels of Emile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant and the Goncourt brothers, which quickly became his abiding passion as a reader. In a letter to his brother, Vincent quoted a maxim from Zola's Mes haines, which he completely took to heart: "I, as an artist, want to live life to the hilt - want to live!" (Letter T336; 1883).
Vincent's engagement with Naturalist fiction, Les romans parisiens, was one factor that led him to Paris in 1886. Here he experienced their sights and sounds firsthand, which was no less crucial to his evolution as a artist than being exposed to the latest advances in painting, which he absorbed slowly but deliberately. He symbolically married these literary and pictorial influences in Still Life with Plaster Statuette, a Rose and Two Novels, painted in the winter of 1887-1888 (see frontispiece to this note). The two titles he illustrated, seen in their colorful, paper covers, are the Goncourts' Germinie Lacerteaux, their tragic tale of a spinster made pregnant and then abandoned by her young lover, and Maupassant's Bel-Ami, his send-up of an ambitious cad's corrupt rise to wealth and power.
Daudet's tales of the Midi, especially his picaresque Tartarin de Tarascon series, stirred Vincent's interest in the South. He also expected to find there a place resembling the landscape and light that had been such a revelation to him in Japanese prints. He acted on his "idea of looking for something in the country of Tartarin" (Letter T617), and arrived in Arles in February 1888. One of the first works he painted there was the small still-life Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book (fig. 2), in which he expressed his hope for a productive stay. The book is not identifiable, but one might reasonably guess it to be a title by Daudet. Gauguin joined Vincent in late October to establish their "Studio of the South." Their partnership lasted only a couple of months; Gauguin later wrote in Avant et Après, "Daudet, de Goncourt and the Bible were burning up this Dutchman's brain."34 He recalled how after making an inedible pot of soup for their dinner, Vincent invoked an incident in Tartarin, "my Vincent burst out laughing and exclaimed 'Tarascon! La casquette au père Daudet!' 35b
The two artists discovered the local Arlésienne they were eager to paint in the person of Marie Ginoux. She and her husband, the proprietors of a local café, were virtually the only respectable townspeople who would have anything to do with the oddly-behaved strangers from the North, and their interests at first were purely commercial. As described in the introductory essay in this catalogue, Vincent and Gauguin held their portrait sessions with Mme Ginoux, who arrived dressed in her colorful, traditional garb, during the first week in November. Vincent painted two canvases (figs. ? and ?, p. ___); in the second he included two books. Judy Sund has written, "The well-thumbed paperbacks of the later painting (one which lies open before the sitter) suggest a more private realm and lead one to interpret Ginoux's pose as one of high-minded reverie..."36 However, Sund points out that "it isunlikely that Marie Ginoux had a predilection for literature, and it even less likely she knew the sort of books Van Gogh included in the second Arlésienne, which -- by virtue of their colorful paper bindings - are readily identified as "romans parisiens". Few provincial women, even the most 'literary,' read such books in this era, and the novel's presence in L'Arlésienne surely reflects Van Gogh's taste, not Ginoux's" 37. In the same month Vincent painted Woman Reading a Novel (fig. 3), a purely imagined work, which suggests the intense involvement and concentration that he himself brought to the pastime of reading fiction.
During the sessions with Mme Ginoux, Gauguin made the charcoal drawing of her that he left with Vincent, and which became the basis for the second series of portraits, including the present painting. Gauguin's departure in December 1888 was a tremendous blow to Vincent. Some of their arguments had been over literature; Gauguin was partial to the newer movement of the Symbolists and decadents, while Vincent retained his loyalty to the Naturalists. In Gauguin's Chair (fig. 4), painted shortly after the two L'Arlésienne portraits, Vincent seemed to sense Gauguin's imminent departure. In the absence of his friend and sitter, he placed two books next to a candle on his chair. These constituted, in light of Vincent's great love of books, a heartfelt and moving tribute.
Van Gogh painted the second group of five Ginoux portraits in February 1890, as he was convalescing from his bout with mental illness at the asylum in Saint-Rémy, near Arles. He had learned that Marie Ginoux was also suffering from a nervous ailment, and he prepared to dispatch to her one version of her portrait as a sign of his compassion in her time of need. He included in her portraits a copy of Dicken's Christmas Stories and Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The romans parisiens he had employed in the initial pair of portraits were no longer suitable in this situation. The uplifting stories of Dickens and Beecher Stowe would be more appropriate for a lady, and in light of her condition, more comforting as well. In a letter to his sister Wilhelmina, dated Arles 10 April 1889, before he left for Saint-Rémy, Vincent wrote: "I have reread Uncle Tom's Cabin by Beecher Stowe with extreme attention, for the very reason that it is a book written by a woman, written, as she tells us, while she was making soup for the children -- and after that, also with extreme attention, Charles Dickens Christmas Tales [sic]." It was a symptom of his malaise that he went on to say, "I read little in order to meditate all the more. It is very probable that I shall have to suffer a great deal yet" (Letter W11). Nevertheless, eight months later, when thinking about and painting Marie Ginoux, he remembered the pair of books that had assuaged his own distress. Ronald Pickvance has written, "He included them in L'Arlésienne as magical talismans for the restoration of Madame Ginoux's health"38.
A pair of books appears for the last time in one of Vincent's final portraits, in the famous first version of his Portrait of Doctor Gachet (fig.__, p. __). The portrait of Mme Ginoux that Vincent kept for himself greatly impressed Gachet. Vincent used a similar pose in his two portraits of Gachet, and in the first he included two novels, again the roman parisiens that he had long admired, this time the Goncourt brothers' Manette Salomon and Germinie Lacertaux. As it turned out, Vincent was again imposing his literary tastes on his sitter. Gachet appeared to have little interest in the Goncourts. Vincent eliminated the pair of novels from the second version of his portrait, which he made for and presented to the doctor.
Several weeks later, Vincent killed himself. This might have been a scene out of one of the novels he read; an alarming number of protagonists in 19th century literature resorted to this terrible solution. One may ponder if Vincent, the impassioned reader, thought of himself as one of them.
L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux
By Roland Dorn
In the aftermath of the Romantic Movement French literature saw a revival of regional traditions, especially in Provence, where artists of every kind were inspired by beauty - and the Arlésiennes, the women of its capital since ancient days, were praised to be "the most beautiful women on earth", as Frédéric Mistral stated (39). More familiar to the contemporary French public was Alphonse Daudet's "L'Arlésienne", a short story featuring a femme fatale and a peasant's son, who fell in love with her but vanished under her spell. 40 Its adaptation to a play, staged to the music of Georges Bizet (1872), at first flopped completely, but triumphed when restaged at the Odéon Théâtre in Paris in 1888.
Arriving in Arles in February 1888, Vincent--at the beginning of his career, in 1881, he had dropped the name of the wealthy and renowned Van Gogh family he was born to (41)--began to look for models, but evidently only "An Old Arlésienne" (F.390) would pose for him. It was the return of his old dilemma. Like Gavarni, he wanted to depict contemporary society: figures he felt to be representative of the age, in their characteristic settings, with their distinctive attitudes and sentiments. But how to depict "abstractions" like these, how to paint figures at all, when this meant (although Vincent had a reasonable monthly allowance supplied by his brother, he was always short of money) paying for sittings? And this assumes that the models he was looking for were willing to pose for him-which they often were not.
Gauguin's arrival in Arles, 23 October 1888, altered the situation., A man acquainted with the rites and rules of the game,. "he has almost found his Arlésienne," Vincent marveled a few days later (42) Who was this Arlésienne? Was it Marie Ginoux, née Jullian (1848 - 1911)? She and her husband Joseph Ginoux ran the Café de la Gare at 30, place Lamartine in Arles; Vincent as well as Gauguin immortalized its interior in their paintings of a Café de nuit (FIG 1).
Vincent to stay there from April 1888 until he moved to the Yellow House next door in mid-September 1888. His ironic remarks on the owners of the Café de nuit while he was executing the painting leave little doubt that their relationship stayed more or less commercial until Vincent left Arles for Saint-Rémy, in the spring of 1889. Even then, he had to pay them for the space to store his furniture.
On one of the last days of October 1888, Marie Ginoux was persuaded to pose for both artists: Vincent completed a large size 30 canvas within three quarters of an hour (FIG XXX), while Gauguin contented himself with a carefully executed study in pencil (FIG XXX). He used this study as the basis for his Café de nuit (FIG XXX), finished a few days later in November, before being sent to Vincent's brother Theo and exhibited at Les XX in Brussels in the spring of 1889.
By this time, two things had happened. First, Gauguin, who had left Arles for Paris during the critical days after Vincent's nervous breakdown and temporary confinement in the hospital, claimed Vincent's Sunflowers in exchange for a few studies that he had left behind in Arles, among them the portrait drawing of Madame Ginoux. Vincent was extremely upset, refused categorically, and offered to return all the works that he had ever exchanged with Gauguin. 43 Second, Vincent was struck by the news that the day he had fallen ill, Madame Ginoux, too, had begun to suffer from a serious disease. This coincidence had a strong emotional impact on Vincent and evidently was reason enough for him, as soon as he was able to do so, to repeat her portrait (FIG XXX)--with significant alterations. No doubt, Vincent had initially conceived a femme fatale in the tradition of Daudet's novel: a woman dressed up in the traditional costume of the town, worn on Sundays and feast days, her gloves and parasol carelessly thrown to the table. "Tell Degas," Vincent then asked his brother, "I have been unable to paint the women of Arles without their poison". 44 But in Vincent's repetition, Madame Ginoux became the modern woman looking up from her book and reflecting on her reading, like the nun painted by Philippe de Champaigne (Musée du Louvre, Paris), whom Jules Michelet evoked in his essay "L'Amour" (a favourite tract of Vincent, who called it "this marvellous page").
Madame Ginoux received Vincent's gift at the latest in July 1889, during his first visit to Arles from St.-Rémy. By this time, his feelings of anger towards Gauguin had calmed, and, reconciled by letters from Paris and Britanny, Vincent took up writing again. But the next conflict soon arose. Vincent's critical remarks on the religious subjects which Gauguin and Bernard had recently painted led to a silence lasting until the spring of 1890, when Gauguin was back from Brittany and had seen Vincent's exhibit at "Les Indépendants" in Paris. 45 But to Vincent's offer of a painted version of the Arlésienne based on his drawing of 1888, Gauguin replied only after a considerable delay, i.e. not before April 1890. Having seen Vincent's recent work, he was no longer hesitating, but was eager to get the Arlésienne that he had been offered. 46
Late in the autumn of 1889, when working outdoors became difficult, Vincent began to copy prints in his possession, including works by Millet, Delacroix, and Rembrandt, as well as drawings of his own. The final set of "interpretations in color" which Vincent executed in Saint-Rémy was based on Gauguin's portrait drawing of Madame Ginoux, which he had left behind when he departed for Paris in 1888. Evidently this set of copies was completed before Vincent set out for his final trip to Arles. From letters of Dr. Théophile Peyron, director of the asylum at Saint-Rémy, to Theo van Gogh, we know that Vincent went once or twice to Arles in February 1890. On the last occasion, Peyron had to send two men to Arles to bring him back: "Nobody knows where he spent the night of Saturday to Sunday" (22/23 February 1890?), and "the painting representing an Arlésienne he took with him, has disappeared". 47 Nobody knows to whom Vincent wanted to give the painting (as the Ginoux already had their share, it may have been for Roulin and his family), and it never surfaced again.
The pedigrees of all extant versions of L'Arlésienne based on Gauguin's drawing start in the collection or the estate of Theo van Gogh, to whom Vincent left the task of distribution: Gauguin was to get one 48, Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and Theo himself were each to get one, and a fourth, which Vincent wanted to keep for himself, evidently accompanied him to Auvers. There, it excited Dr. Gachet, who did not rest until Vincent consented to do his portrait in exactly this manner. From this derive the significant alterations in Vincent's second portrait of Dr. Gachet (F.754, FIG XXX), which brought the Gachet portrait very close to Vincent's own version of the Arlésienne (F.542, FIG XXX). But with Vincent's sudden death, the latter merged again with the others in the estate, which Theo shared with his brother's friends and admirers. Among them was a portrait of Emile Bernard (F.540), who helped Theo to organize the first retrospective exhibition of Vincent's work in Theo's former apartment, Cité Pigalle, and the writer and critic Albert Aurier (F.541), who was the first to acknowledge Vincent's talent. Theo entrusted Aurier with publishing the first monograph on his brother, a project that was never realized due to Aurier's premature death in 1892. When Gauguin, back from Tahiti in April 1894, claimed his version of the Arlésienne, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Theo's widow and translator of her brother-in-law's correspondence, sent him one of the two that remained- Vincent's own (F.542, FIG). Evidently, she was well aware that Vincent had painted the other (F.543, the present canvas) explicitly for herself and her late husband. From one of the last letters by Vincent to his sister Wil we know that this painting together with the "Blossoming Almond Branches" (F.671), celebrating the birth of their son, had a place of honour in the apartment of Jo and Theo in Montmartre.
This background corresponds with the shift in meaning in the present version of the portrait. All earlier versions, even those that had already abandoned the initial femme fatale concept, retained the traditional black and white costume of an Arlésienne. Color was something surrounding Madame Ginoux, never part of her. Now black is reserved to indicate the depths of her personality, her hair with the black ribbon, her brows and eyes, while bright-light-white (Vincent loved such chains of associations) illuminates everything. Isn't illumination the source of modernity, and was it not, according to Victor Hugo and others, the book that illuminated Europe, at that time the World? Vincent himself pointed to this distinction: "The portrait of an Arlésienne has the flesh discoloured and matte, the eyes are quiet and very simple, the dress is black, the background pink, and with her elbow she is leaning on a green table with green books. But in the version at Theo's (the present lot) the dress is pink, the background yellowish white, and the muslin of the open corsage turns from white to green. Among all these bright colors only the hair, the brows and the eyes mark black spots." 49 The slight opening of the pink corsage to the delicate greenish muslin below makes the point: This woman is no longer exposed to the public like her predecessors, but she willingly allows the spectator a glance into her private sphere. From her most intimate settings, the colors evoke the proverbial beauty of the women of Arles.
In portraits such as the present work, Vincent opted for radical modernity: "I should like to do portraits which a century later would appeal to the people living then like apparitions. Therefore I am not looking for photographic resemblance, but for expressions of our passions by means of our knowledge of, and modern taste for, color." 50
(fig. 1) Paul Gauguin, L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux, 1888. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
(fig. 2) Vincent van Gogh, L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux, 1888. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
(fig. 3) Vincent van Gogh, L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux, 1888.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
(fig. 4) Vincent van Gogh, sketch of L'Arlésienne, d'après
Gauguin, 1890. Museu de Arte de São Paulo.
(fig. 5) Vincent van Gogh, sketch of L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux, 1890. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam.
(fig. 6) Vincent van Gogh, Portrait du Dr. Gachet, 1890; sold,
Christie's, New York, 15 May 1990, lot 21.
OVERLEAF: Vincent van Gogh, Tisserand au rouet, 1884. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam.
(fig. 7) Vincent van Gogh, Wild Flowers and Thistles in a Vase, 1890. Private collection.
(fig. 8) Vincent van Gogh, Champs de blé, 1890. Museum of Modern Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.
(fig. 9) Vincent van Gogh, L'Italienne, 1887-1888. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
(fig. 10) Vincent van Gogh, Adeline Ravoux, 1890. Cleveland Museum of Art
OVERLEAF: Vincent van Gogh, Still-Life with Plaster Statuette, a Rose and Two Novels, Paris, December 1887 (F 360; JH 1349); Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterloo.
(fig. 11) Vincent van Gogh, Blossoming Almh?d Branch in a Glass with a Book, Arles, early March 1888 (F 393; JH 1362); sold, Christie's, New York, 4 November 2003, lot 6.
(fig. 12) Vincent van Gogh, Woman Reading a Novel, Arles, December 1888; (F 497; JH 1632); sold, Christie's, London, 21 June 2005, lot 18.
(fig. 13) Vincent van Gogh, Gauguin's Chair, Arles, December 1888 (F 499; JH 1636); Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam.
1. R. Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, p. 11.
2. D. Druick and P. Zegers, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 2001, p. 323.
3. R. Pickvance, op. cit., p. 12.
4. D. Druick and P. Zegers, op. cit., p. 385, note 35.
5. Ibid., p. 171.
6. Ibid., p. 171.
7. Ibid., p. 171.
8. D. Wildenstein, op. cit., p. 521.
9. Ibid., p. 520.
10. Ibid., p. 520.
11. D. Druick and P. Zegers, op. cit., p. 184.
12. J. Sund, "Famine to Feast: Portrait Making at St.-Rémy and Auvers," in Van Gogh Face to Face: The Portraits, exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts, 2000, p. 202.
13. J. Hulsker, op. cit., 1996, p. 432.
14. D. Cooper, Paul Gauguin: 45 Lettres à Vincent, Théo et Jo Van Gogh, The Hague, 1983, p. 297; cited in J. Sund, op. cit., p. 202.
15. Vincent Van Gogh: Paintings, exh. cat., Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam, 2000, p. 247.
16. J. Sund, op. cit., p. 205.
17. J. Hulsker, op. cit., 1996, p. 442.
18. J. Sund, op. cit., p. 256, note 106.
19. D. Druick and P. Zegers, op. cit., p. 323.
20. J.-B. de la Faille, op. cit., 1970, p. 289.
21. D. Wildenstein, op. cit., p. 523.
22. Ibid., p. 523.
23. J. Sund, op. cit., p. 259, note 212.
24. Ibid., p. 227.
25. This issue is discussed in detail in D. Silverman, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art, New York, 2000, pp. 405-412.
26. De la Faille nos. 26-27, 29-30, 32-33, 35, 37, 1107-1111, 1114-1116, 1118-1125, 1134, 1136-1140.
27. D. Silverman, op. cit., pp. 142-143.
28. B. Welsh-Ovcharov, Van Gogh in Perspective, Englewood Cliffs 1974, p. 38.
29. D. Silverman, op. cit., p. 79.
30. Ibid., p. 79.
31. Millet: de la Faille nos. 632, 634, 647-649, 668, 670, 684-690, 692-694, 696-700; Rembrandt: nos. 624, 677; Delacroix: nos. 630, 633; Daumier: no. 667.
32. D. Silverman, op. cit., p. 394.
33. J. Sund, True to Temperament: Van Gogh and French Naturalist Literature, Cambridge, UK, 1992, p. 2
34. D. Guerin, ed., Paul Gauguin, The Writings of a Savage, New York, 1978, pp. 251-252
35. ibid., p. 253
36. J. Sund, op. cit., p. 207
37. ibid., pp. 209-210
38. R. Pickvance, Van Gogh in Saint-Remy and Auvers, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1986, p. 177
39. Cf. R. Dorn, Décoration: Vincent van Goghs Werkreihe für das Gelbe Haus in Arles, Hildesheim, 1990, pp. 152-153. Fréderic Mistral (1813-1914) was the head behind this neo-provençal movement and awarded the Nobel Prize in 1904 for his epic "Mirho" (Mireille), published in 1859.
40. A. Daudet, Lettres de mon Moulin, impressions et souvenirs Paris, 1869.
41. Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, New York, 1988, no. 558 (29. Oct. 1888)
42. Complete Letters (op. cit. note 1), no. 570 (9. Jan. 1889): "[...] dis un peu à de Gas que jusqu'à present j'ai été impuissant à les peindre désempoissonnés les femmes d'Arles."