Painting and drinking companion
Paul-Eugène Milliet is a second lieutenant in a Zouave regiment of the French army (this is indicated by the moon and star in the top right corner). In Arles he is Vincent’s painting and drinking companion. He takes drawing lessons from the artist for some time and accompanies him on his painting trips.
Prototype of a lover
Van Gogh, whose contact with women is awkward, admires the lieutenant for his amorous escapades. With some self-irony he confesses to Theo: ‘Milliet’s lucky, he has all the Arlésiennes he wants, but there you are, he can’t paint them, and if he was a painter he wouldn’t have any.’ In this portrait he depicts him as the prototype of a lover.
The face is made up of loose, thin brushstrokes, while the background is applied with broad, thick strokes. The hat, then again, is painted thinly and evenly. The colours are also contrasting. Van Gogh writes that Milliet is not very good at sitting as a model, but that he is satisfied with ‘his face with its pale, matt complexion, the red képi against an emerald background’.