Augustine Roulin, 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh

It come as a devastating blow to Van Gogh to learn that his dear friend Roulin the postman was about to leave Arles and move to Marseille. He learn of the move shortly after his return home from the hospital in January, and it would seem to have certainly contributed in some wag to the artist's subsequent breakdown a month later. Roulin had been Van Gogh's closest and most constant friend in Arles, and the artist had painted him, and members of his family time and again. This painting of Augustine Roulin had been started before Van Gogh's self-mutilation and on his return home he was eager to finish it before Roulin left. La Berceuse, the cradle rocker, was a symbolic subject for the artist, who was craving comfort and company. The maternal image of the wife and mother was to suggest consolation, and had been inspired both by the artist's own despair and by a novel about fishermen that Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had discussed before his departure. Moved by the thought of the loneliness and danger of the open sea Van Gogh created a painting that would be soothing and reassuring.