Eugène Boch, 1888
Van Gogh was an avid reader of poetry – from the early Renaissance verses of Petrarch to the contemporary work of Walt Whitman. He believed that poets and painters were kindred spirits, aligned through their eternal aspirations and lofty dreams.
In June of 1888, Vincent became friendly with Eugène Boch, a thirty-three-year old Belgian painter living in a town close to Arles. With vivid green eyes, a distinctive face, and sharp features, he had what the Dutchman described as “a look of Dante about him,” a reference to the 14th-century Italian poet Vincent greatly admired. From letters to Théo, we learn that the artist had long wanted to paint the subject of “The Poet.” He found his model in Boch, who sat for this portrait in late August, wearing a short yellow jacket, linen shirt, and colorful tie. The Belgian painter not only resembled Dante, but possessed a soulful temperament that immediately endeared him to Van Gogh.
Spelling out his intentions, Vincent writes that he is going to portray “a man who dreams great dreams… and behind his head … (instead of the wall of my shabby apartment) I will paint infinity” and for this he gives us a starry sky of deep ultramarine. Though Van Gogh considered The Poet to be more of a sketch than a finished painting, the artist was so proud of the work that he framed and hung it on a wall in his Yellow House before eventually sending it to his art dealer brother, with the hope of exhibiting and selling it.