In February 1988, Vincent Van Gogh had moved from Paris to Arles in the south of France where he lived for 14 months; and it was during his time there that he had the inspiration to paint the L'Arlésienne, which translates literally to - "the woman from Arles". In fact, he painted six very similar paintings of the same woman – whose name was Madam Marie Ginoux.
Whilst living in Arles, Van Gogh resided at what was commonly known as the "Yellow House" - the house was the right-wing of 2 Place Lamartine, Arles, where Van Gogh rented four rooms where he painted and lived. Nearby to the Yellow House, was a café where Madame Ginoux and her husband were the proprietors of, called the Café de la Gare. Van Gogh was a frequent customer at the Café de la Gare, and he struck a friendship with both proprietors.
His friend from Paris, Paul Gauguin, arrived in Arles staying in one of the Yellow House rooms that Van Gogh was renting; the pair frequented the café together eating countless meals and socialised there. In early November 1888, Madame Ginoux posed for both artists wearing what was at the time, a typical Arlésienne dress; in total, Van Gogh made six versions of this portrait, all with subtle differences and similarities. It is interesting to note that four of the six paintings that Van Gogh created were from a drawing of Madame Ginoux by Gauguin, and he painted the four whilst an in-patient of the mental asylum at Saint-Rémy.
The most famous of the six portraits – the painting of Madame Ginoux with the gloves and umbrella on the table in front of her – now resides at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. It was this painting that Van Gogh had described in a letter to his brother Theo as "an Arlésienne . . . knocked off in one hour".
Van Gogh had stated in a letter to his sister dated June 1890 that his philosophy for painting portraits – and especially the six paintings of the L'Arlésienne of Madame Ginoux, was to make them appear as revelations to people in a hundred years' time. He explained further that he did not want to achieve this revelation by photographic, or exact, likeness but by rendering our impassioned expressions. Van Gogh achieves this with the L'Arlésienne by utilising the appreciation and knowledge of colour as a means of interpreting and promoting ones' character.