Van Gogh is always short of money and often cannot afford models. For portraits he depends on the cooperation of acquaintances from his environment. Joseph-Michel Ginoux, together with his wife Marie, manages the Café de la Gare on the Place Lamartine in Arles. Van Gogh rented a room from him for a few months before moving into the nearby Yellow House.
Van Gogh’s depiction of Ginoux is striking. The half-closed eyes and sharp lines of his face show a self-confident man. This is further reinforced by his (Sunday) clothing, the gracefully knotted white tie and the somewhat arrogant way in which he looks down on the painter. The background is painted like a halo around his head.
Van Gogh probably painted his former landlord in the evening by gaslight. At that time, Paul Gauguin is staying with him in the Yellow House and he had gas installed in the studio before his arrival, so that they could also work in the evenings. Gaslight gives a yellow-greenish glow. That explains the distinctive colour of the background, against which Ginoux stands out sharply.