During November and December 1888 Van Gogh embarked on a long series of portraits. Portraiture was one of his favourite subjects, but throughout his life he struggled to find willing models, which resulted in multiple paintings
of those that would sit for him. In Arles he had become friendly with the postman Roulin and painted him and many members of his family. His other companion was the Zouave officer Milliet who was on leave in Arles after
fighting in Tonkin, and who also introduced Van Gogh to a Zouave bugler whom he painted. He painted this portrait of a boy in December, employing his often-used technique of applying a single unifying colour through the image.
Here the sallow yellow of the bog's flesh carries on to the background, against which the deep blue hat presents a striking contrast.
During this period Gauguin painted Van Gogh at work, but Van Gogh did not paint Gauguin's portrait. This could perhaps have been a reflection of Van Gogh's lack of confidence in his works, and his reluctance to produce something that might offend his friend.