This portrait of Joseph Roulin is one of six van Gogh painted of his close friend, a postal employee in the southern French town of Arles, a fifteen-hour train ride from Paris. Van Gogh had moved to Arles in 1888, hoping to create an artists cooperative there. The plan never came to fruition, and the artist became lonely and isolated. He found comfort and companionship with the Roulin family, and they are the subjects of many of his paintings. In this portrait, Roulin is depicted in the uniform he always wore proudly, set against an imaginative backdrop of swirling flowers. In a letter to his brother Theo, the artist wrote that, of all genres, "the modern portrait" excited him the most: "I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we try to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our coloring."