Vincent van Gogh - Portrait of Eugene Boch 1888

Portrait of Eugene Boch 1888
Portrait of Eugene Boch
Oil on canvas 60.0 x 45.0 cm. Arles: September, 1888
Paris: Musee d'Orsay

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From the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France:
Van Gogh met the Belgian painter Eugène Boch (1855-1941) in mid-June 1888, while Boch was spending a few weeks near Arles. Around 8 July, Vincent mentioned Boch in a letter to his brother Théo: "I very much like the looks of this young man with his distinctive face, like a razor blade, and his green eyes".
On 11 August, his idea began to take shape: "I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams great dreams, who works like the nightingale sings, because it is his nature to do so. This man will be blond. I would like to convey in the picture my appreciation, the love that I have for him. So I will paint him just as he is, as faithfully as I can [...].
Behind his head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of this shabby appartment, I will paint infinity, I will do a simple background of the richest blue, the most intense blue that I can create, and through this simple combination of the bright head against this rich, blue background, I will obtain a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of an azure sky".
Two weeks later, Boch sat for Van Gogh. "Well, thanks to him I have at last the first sketch of this painting that I have dreamt of for so long – The Poet. He sat for me. His fine head with his green eyes stands out in my portrait against a starry sky of deep ultramarine; he wears a short, yellow jacket, a collar of unbleached linen and a colourful tie".
Although he only considered it to be a "sketch", Van Gogh framed this work, which he called The Poet. We know that it hung for some time on the wall of his bedroom in the Yellow House, because it appears in the first version of The Bedroom (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum).

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Sunday, 1 April 1888.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and for the 50-franc note enclosed in it. I would have things to write to you at leisure but have to do so in great haste. First of all, Tersteeg once again. Am very pleased that your consignment goes off on Monday and after all, perhaps also because there’s a canvas of mine in it.
However, that one doesn’t count, because I hope you’ll think what I’ve just done is good and that it will mean a new canvas of mine goes off to Holland.
I’d worked on a no. 20 canvas in the open air in an orchard — ploughed lilac field, a reed fence — two pink peach trees against a glorious blue and white sky. Probably the best landscape I’ve done. Just as I brought it home I received from our sister a piece in Dutch dedicated to Mauve’s memory, with his portrait (really good, the portrait), the text poor and saying nothing — pretty etching. But something or other grabbed hold of me and made my throat tight with emotion, and I wrote on my painting

Souvenir de Mauve
Vincent & Theo

and if you think it’s good as it stands we’ll send it to Mrs Mauve in both our names.
I deliberately took the best study I’ve made here, I don’t know what they’ll say about it back home, but that’s neither here nor there to us. It seemed to me that in memory of Mauve we needed something that was both tender and very cheerful and not a study in a more serious key than that.

‘Don’t believe that the dead are dead.
While there are people still alive
The dead will live, the dead will live’.

That’s how I feel the thing, no sadder than that.
In addition to that I now have another 4 or 5 studies of orchards and I’m going to start a no. 30 canvas of the same subject. This zinc white that I’m using now doesn’t dry. If everything was dry I’d send a consignment at once. Only the days are all good now, not in terms of the weather, on the contrary, there are 3 windy days for one still one, but as for the subjects of orchards in blossom. I have a lot of trouble painting because of the wind, but I fix my easel to pegs stuck in the ground and work anyway, it’s too beautiful. Now be steadfast in keeping up relations with Tersteeg. Success or not, in a year I’m inclined to believe it will be there.
It seems to me that Tersteeg and not Reid should now set up the Impressionist exhibition in England.
I don’t at all like Reid’s way of behaving towards us, it seems funny to me that you and Guillaumin haven’t already arranged to cancel the sale of the painting in question. You can tell Guillaumin boldly from me that that’s my firm opinion, and as much in the interests of G. himself as in the interests of business in general. The price was already derisory. Either Reid, after what has happened, should buy outright, or the artists should shut the door in his face. That’s how I’ve seen it in the past, and on further reflection I still see it like that. For 300 francs we’re compromising further sales, but it’s very sad.
Is there any way for you to buy it for us, the painting in question? Tersteeg should know all about the Reid business, and know he has a competitor in the England business and that we’d prefer him to be the one who does it. Anyway, that’s not my affair, it’s that of the firm of Boussod Valadon, to which you belong, you and Tersteeg. In great haste.
Ever yours,

Warm regards to Koning, and till tomorrow I hope, if I have time to write.