In August 1888, Van Gogh told his brother about his plans to paint a picture with a friend-artist – he called it a dreamer – using exaggerated colors. Instead of the simple background of an ordinary room, he created the night sky effect, on which the head would stand out “like the mysterious gleam of a dim star at infinity.” This letter indicated which value Van Gogh wanted to convey through the portrait. As always, he did not limit himself to a characteristic feature or features of a person who sat in the role of his model.
In this portrait the Belgian Eugène Bosch, an artist by profession, is portrayed as Van Gogh’s vision of a dreamy poet. He is shown simply, in a modern costume, but the stars were added to the background. Later, Van Gogh named the portrait “Poet against the background of the starry sky.” Boh is written in a combination of bright tones of yellow and dark blue. The placement of the human head on the imaginary background of a starry night was to raise the portrait to the level of a more symbolic representation of the artist as a dreamer, and a message about the artist’s transfer from the immediate social reality.
The problem was that, despite such a large-scale idea for a modern portrait based on a combination of color and symbolic attributes, Van Gogh could not convey this semantic load without a full textual explanation, which he had to state in the letters.