This extraordinary man, Pere Tanguy, was a colour grinder with an art supply shop in Montmortre who took the avant-garde artists of the day under his wing, often trading their works for art supplies. By accounts he was extremely kind
with a socialist leaning and was sympathetic to the struggles that emerging artists had. He also collected a huge number of works, especially those by Cezanne as well as Van Gogh,
Pissarro, Gauguin, Monet, Manet and others. He bought and traded the
paintings, selling them on for little profit and only just making a living himself.
Pere Tanguy's shop became a gathering place for artists and the scene of lively debate and discussion, and it appears that he was a man who was universally admired and liked. This portrait of him, which was one of several Van Gogh did, shows him sitting calmly against a vivid wall of Japanese prints. Van Gogh was a great collector of these prints, and made several copies of them, as well as incorporating them into his other paintings.
In an effort to capture serenity in his painting, Van Gogh paints Tanguy with a calm, contemplative nature. The Japanese paintings represent van Gogh's search for serenity, which he describes in a letter to his sister during this period:
Having as much of this serenity as possible, even though one knows little - nothing - for certain, is perhaps a better remedy for all diseases than all the things that are sold at the chemist's shop. "
- Vincent Van Gogh