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Drawing from Van Gogh’s ‘The Postman’

and the good friend behind that beard

Drawing from Vincent Van Gogh The Postman and the friend behind that beard

Joseph Roulin, “The Postman”  in Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting, was a remarkable friend to the artist. He helped him through the most difficult and notorious phase of his life. This much-loved painting features as the cover for our new interactive drawing book “Doodle from the Masters“. As you doodle or draw from Van Gogh, discover more about the this touching friendship and the man behind the beard.

David was our doodle artist in the short video above. He has been experimenting using our interactive book “Doodle from the Masters”. We caught up with him later and asked about his approach, and about his choice of media.

I chose felt tip pens for this picture because their colours are bright like the bold colours used in the picture, particularly in the face.

I started by quickly drawing in the outlines without rigorously following the printed lines – as though I was doing a sketch of my own – and I tried to continue this loose approach throughout the picture. When it came to the postman’s cap I painted the lettering first in bright yellow and then surrounded it with the blue/black of the cap.

The whole process took the best part of an hour and I enjoyed doing it very much. I am very pleased with the result.”

Van Gogh's portrait of the postman alongside David's felt tip drawing
Van Gogh’s original portrait of Joseph Roulin alongside David’s completed felt tip doodle.

Joseph Roulin, Van Gogh’s postman friend in Arles

Vincent Van Gogh painted and drew Joseph Roulin on numerous occasions whilst living in Arles, in the south of France. He was in awe of his appearance, his full beard, smart blue uniform and colorful complexion; but also of his character, considering him to be something of a Socrates.

“Though he is not quite old enough to be like a father to me, nevertheless has a salient gravity and a tenderness for me such as an old soldier might have for a young one…  A good soul and so wise and so full of feeling and so trustful”

from Vincent Van Gogh’s letters

Joseph was 47 when Vincent first painted him. He was a local postal officer at the rail station, a passionate socialist, a keen drinker, but also a tender and proud father. Vincent was also attracted to his family. He painted various portraits of Joseph’s wife Augustine, his two sons, and his recently born baby daughter.

“It was touching to see him with his children this last day, especially with the quite tiny one when he made her laugh and jump on his knee, and sang for her. His voice has a strangely pure and touching quality…”

from Vincent Van Gogh’s letters
Van Gogh's painting of his bedroom, and a street in the town of Arles
Van Gogh painted this famous image of his bedroom in the french town of Arles

Vincent’s Van Gogh’s Ear

But the time spent in Arles was soon to become the most difficult of Van Gogh’s life. An explosive disagreement with fellow artist Paul Gauguin spiralled downward into a painful psychotic episode. Vincent sliced off part of his own ear, and later presented it for safe keeping to a local girl, Rachel. 

It was his postman friend Joseph, who helped Vincent during this the most traumatic of times. When they took Vincent in for treatment at the local psychiatric hospital Joseph was there for him. He visited him there and wrote to Vincent’s family to keep them updated. Joseph arranged that Vincent’s rent was paid and his house kept clean. On Vincent’s release he continued to visit him. Even returning later from a new position in Marseille to see his friend.

Vincent Van Gogh recorded his affection for Joseph Roulin and for his family too, in the wonderful series of Roulin portraits. He painted them all — Joseph of course, his wife Augustine, his 17 year old son Armand, Camille the 11 year old school boy, and little baby Marcelle.

Augustine Roulin and
Joseph Roulin’s wife, Augustine, and baby daughter, Marcelle, from just two of Vincent Van Gogh’s many portraits of the Roulin Family. (Both paintings from the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Just one of 15 masterpieces to inspire your drawing

Doodle from the Masters - the book for drawing, copying and doodling from 15 great paintings

Introducing the ‘Doodle from the Masters’ book

Doodle from the Masters Book Cover - Van Gogh

Hone your creative talents doodling, sketching, coloring & drawing under the inspiration of great artists. Unique ready-made foundation drawings help you concentrate freely on your drawing and mark-making skills, without the need to worry about composition or proportion.
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