La Berceuse

Comfort and warmth Van Gogh has a special intention with this portrait. Floral motif The darker background is strewn with simplified depictions of dahlias. Show all works. Continue search in collection Search. Go to the timeline. Visit our timeline to read about the acquisition of this work. As with the Sunflower paintings intended to decorate the Studio of the South, this last expression of the Studio's utopian dream of art uses a visual language accessible to anyone.

Van Gogh hoped La Berceuse would be seen and felt by the poor and the "broken-hearted". He wrote to Gauguin and Theo that he conceived it as a painting for the people, comparable in its bold design to a "cheap chromo", a popular chromolithograph print. He said it was a picture that might console fishermen far out at sea in a storm. Instead of being thrown about by the ocean, they would feel they were being rocked in a cradle and remember their own childhood lullabies.

When Van Gogh began this later, more imagined painting, he took the rounded, harmonised design of her face from Gauguin's Madame Roulin Portrait of the week Culture.

La Berceuse, Vincent van Gogh c Jonathan Jones. Where is it? In the letter of 21 January addressed to Gauguin, we read surprisingly of a "lullaby": "Today I made a fresh start on the canvas I had painted of Mrs Roulin, the one which had remained in La Berceuse vague state as regards the hands because of my accident As an Impressionist arrangement of colours, I've never devised anything better.

And I believe that if one placed this canvas just as it is in a boat, even one of Icelandic fishermen, there would be some who would feel the lullaby [Fr. The next day Vincent La Berceuse mentions having completed "the hands that hold the cradle cord" in his letter to Koning and hopes as cited above that he may have "sung a lullaby in colour". The conviction that La Berceuse was originally laid out simply as a portrait and only became "The Lullaby" through the addition of the rope was voiced as long ago as by Jan Hulsker: "The implication that she was sitting by a cradle was probably introduced with the late addition of the two pieces of cord.

It is not clear exactly when van Gogh added the two pieces of cord to the original picture. It was not before 22 January that he mentioned 'the hands holding the rope of the cradle' in his letter to Koning, and from that moment onwards the portrait of Madame Roulin could enter history as 'La Berceuse'. He was discharged on 7 Januaryapparently recovered. It was a full fortnight after leaving hospital that Vincent wrote the letters to Gauguin, Theo and Koning in which he reports that he has resumed work on the portrait of Madame Roulin.

When, according to his own information, he was once more able to devote himself to the portrait on 21 Januaryhe not only completed the hands but added an attribute. Through the addition of the rope, the portrait of Madame Roulin thus underwent a metamorphosis and became "The Lullaby", La Berceuse.

But why? What prompted van Gogh to place a rope belatedly in Madame Roulin's lap, given that the postmaster's wife remains without eye contact and wholly unconcerned with the fictive infant in the fictive cradle? Stoic and with an absent air, she gazes into the middle distance. The cradle cord — wiegetouw, as van Gogh calls it in Dutch 18 — appears like a foreign body that is partially covered by Madame Roulin's hands but not interlaced with them. A cultural history of the La Berceuse 19 reveals that, in 19th-century France in particular, cradles were commonly rocked by means of a strap system — but never with a rope.

A cradle was normally furnished with three or four pommels along its sides, to which the rocking strap was fastened. Starting with one end, the strap was laced in a criss-cross fashion over the coverlet and the infant tucked beneath.

This prevented the child from falling out when the cradle was rocked. As a rule, the strap was a flat, woven band measuring some 3—5 cm wide, with a woven pattern or finely embroidered.

The mother or nurse wound the loose end around her hand so that, by pulling the strap taut, she could start rocking the cradle. The mother-and-baby portrait of Madame Roulin and her daughter La Berceuse, painted by Vincent van Gogh a few weeks earlier, shows the infant dressed in the style befitting the child of a postmaster. It is therefore to be assumed that van Gogh added the rope on the basis of his imagination and not from direct observation, all the more so since he has painted two strands of rope instead of just the single end of a normal rocking strap.

In none of the five versions may the belated addition of the rope attribute be considered altogether resolved from a formal point of view. Explanations put forward to date similarly fail to convince. Thus the suggestion that van Gogh was simply not very good at hands, for example, is hard to credit. They reveal the visible discrepancy between Madame Roulin's hands lying calmly in her lap and her supposed activity.

This title is contradicted, however, by the German edition of the same catalogue, where the official translation is Madame Roulin beim Spinnen La Berceusewhich translates as "Madame Roulin Spinning". On the contrary, the strange insertion of the rope, which was only added after Vincent's discharge from hospital and was not part of the original design 24points to a more complex level of meaning. In a long letter written on 17 Januaryten days after he left hospital, Vincent aims to fulfil his brother's request for an explanation of his disastrous row with Gauguin.

In relating what happened, however, van Gogh evidently found himself in a profound dilemma. On the one hand he wanted to clarify the situation for his brother, while on the other he had evidently made a promise to Gauguin not to talk about the incident, at which there were no other witnesses.

Gauguin confirms this first of all in the account of the events of 23 December that he gave in person to Emile Bernhard, who repeated it partly verbatim in a letter to Albert Aurier of 1 January According to Bernard, immediately after their argument van Gogh said to Gauguin: "You are silent, but I shall be so too. Consequences arising out of this for art-historical scholarship were for a long time disregarded in the almost boundless literature on van Gogh and Gauguin. Only in a study on van Gogh and Gauguin's stay in Arles, published inwas it possible, on the basis of this and other previously neglected sources, to decipher with great plausibility the true course of the violent confrontation between the two artists.

In order to resolve the dilemma facing him in the above-mentioned letter of 17 January, namely to explain to Theo the dramatic events of 23 December without breaking his oath of silence to Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh — as so often when describing certain situations in his life — turns to literature. The close relationship between literature and van Gogh's visual language was underlined more than two decades ago by Judy Sund: "As in other times of crisis [ He found that fictional situations not only provided escape from his own problems and anxieties, but also suggested metaphors for his dilemma and modes of describing and explaining the events he sought to reconstruct.

In the same reply to Theo of 17 January, Vincent thus writes: "Has Gauguin ever read Tartarin sur les Alpes, and does he remember Tartarin's illustrious pal from Tarascon who had such an imagination that in one fell swoop he imagined an entire La Berceuse Switzerland? Does he remember the knot in a rope rediscovered high up in the Alps after the fall? And you, who wish to know how things happened, have you ever read the whole of Tartarin? That would teach you to recognize Gauguin pretty well.

I urge you in all seriousness to look at that passage in Daudet's book again. A parallel reference appears in Vincent's letter to Gauguin of 21 January: "Have you read Tartarin in full by now? The imagination of the south creates pals, doesn't it, and between us we always have friendship.

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