"A good soul and so wise and so full of feeling and so trustful"--thus Vincent van Gogh described his friend Joseph-Etienne Roulin. Van Gogh drew and painted many portraits of Roulin, a postal worker in Arles, where Van Gogh lived from 1888 to 1889. In letters and pictures, Van Gogh idealized Roulin, regarding him as both a man of the people and a sage.
Facing frontally, Roulin is pushed close to the picture plane, with his eyes looking slightly wistfully to the side. Van Gogh's energetic lines describe Roulin's full beard, his facial structure, and his somewhat crooked nose. With the dark, thick lines of a reed pen, Van Gogh hatched the vibrating coat and cap. Behind Roulin, a patchwork of nervous, intersecting lines drawn with a quill pen creates an overall surface tension, reinforcing the energy emanating from the sitter and the unsettled nature of his gaze.