Madame Roulin and Her Baby

A Reflection on Faith and Art in Honor of ArtSpeak

Vincent van Gogh's  Madame Roulin and Her Baby

Vincent van Gogh's Madame Roulin and Her Baby

It was not the van Gogh painting I was there to see. As a college student living in New York City for the summer, I frequented the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I would climb the marble staircase, walk amongst relics, and explore the rooftop exhibit. No matter my time constraints, I would also always wind through the galleries holding the work of Vincent van Gogh. The thick brushstrokes of his Cypresses and the movement in the sky above his Wheat Field - I loved it all. I still love it. Yet, the piece that most caught my eye that summer was Madame Roulin and Her Baby.

Madame Roulin’s face practically soaks into the rich golden yellow background, focusing the observer’s eyes on the baby. And the baby looks so uncomfortable! It’s face is squished back into itself and the arms are held out from it’s sides and slightly blurred, as if they are moving with the shuttering, wavering control of an infant. The baby is secure in Madame Roulin’s hands, but it is clearly in need of support and care. It is dependent and feeble, but still looking out from the canvas with clear, open eyes.

Like the baby in van Gogh’s painting, I was rosy cheeked and needy that summer too. I had given up searching for answers to some big questions I had been asking. I had thrown my hands in the air at the religious debates that had been swirling in my head. I was opting for naiveté- more aptly, agnosticism- yet, I still knew my need for solid ground and support. Somehow, I felt it. Despite myself and my tenuous state of faith, I still ultimately knew that I was in the hands of something larger than the very picture I inhabit.

The end of the summer came and my trips to the Met ended too. Off I flew to East Africa for a semester spent studying abroad. It was there on a Rwandan hilltop at the Murambi Genoside Memorial that I acknowledged and accepted God once and for all. In the presence of the evil at that memorial- on land where such evil had taken place- I felt the necessity and reality of a personal and omnipotent God. The world desperately needs Christ’s sacrifice and reconciliation. I need it. As Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, "I recognize[d] in all humility that I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is...But I want to see with my own eyes the lamb lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been about.” I did not need answers to those religious debates that had made me throw up my hands. There was no cloud-clearing, voice-from-the-heavens, moment wherein I realized Christ’s hand in my story. Rather, it was in encountering the depth of our brokenness as people that I faced the ultimate need for reconciliation through supernatural means. There is no hope for us otherwise. We are capable of too much darkness and hatred. Yet, God loves us still. Somehow.

Since time spent in Rwanda, I have felt all the more resonance with the baby in van Gogh’s painting. We are called to have “childlike” faith (Matthew 18:3). As the baby, I attempt to look out at the realities of the world head-on, clear-eyed and honestly. I no longer require answers to my questions of justice, forgiveness and redemption, though I do continue to ask them, as a child opining "why?" over and over again. Now, uncomfortably, I attempt to accept the utterly dependent state of my soul. And as van Gogh’s baby, I need to be upheld by a figure larger than the painting of my life itself - so immense it is part of the very backdrop of the work. No matter how I flail, my arms jerking about uncontrollably or my head teetering precariously, I am secure in the arms of my creator. I am loved as a child of God.

- Kimberly LaCroix, Highrocker

About: Kimberly LaCroix is an advocate, theatre artist, and writer. She travels with her one-woman show Mzungu Memoirs and a canvas print of Madame Roulin and Her Baby hangs in her daughter’s bedroom.