On 19 January 1890, Van Gogh visits the Ginoux family in Arles. They are the owners of the night café with whom he has remained in contact. Madame Ginoux is not in a good mental condition. Two days later, Van Gogh himself has another nervous breakdown. While recuperating, he paints a series of portraits of Madame Ginoux, after a drawing of her by Gauguin, including this L’Arlésienne.
In this work, Van Gogh is looking for ‘an expression different from that of Parisian women’. By this, he is probably referring to the contrast between what he regards as the contrived, unhealthy city life and the unspoilt, healthy countryside. With this portrait he seeks to present a synthesis of simple shapes and colours, as a summation of his earlier collaboration with Gauguin.
Gauguin is very positive about the painting: ‘Very fine and very curious, I like it better than my drawing’. The Ginoux family never saw Van Gogh again. Mrs Ginoux’s health later improved. In a letter she remarked that Mr Ginoux was now under the weather: he had received a blow to the ribs from an untethered bull.