Portrait of Postman Roulin, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh

Improving transport through the nineteenth century encouraged the growth of the leisure industry. People were able to travel more easily and quickly, and the middle classes had more time that allowed for holidays. Arles, with its beautiful countryside, historic town and gentle weather was starting to develop a growing tourist trade, and this in turn was bringing revenue to the town. The local women were allegedly famed for their beauty, and the local people would still have been, by and large, dressed in traditional clothing by the time Van Gogh arrived.

Although the townsfolk were used to tourists trickling through, they were not used to such bizarre characters as the artist, and his erratic behavior caused him to be quickly isolated from the local community. The exception to this hostile treatment came in the form of the local postman, Monsieur Roulin, who came to be one of the artist's most loyal friends. Van Gogh painted him many times, but in all the pictures the postman appears stiff and uneasy, and did not foil naturally into the role of artist's model .