Van Gogh met the Belgian painter Eugène Boch (1855-1941) in mid-June 1888, while Boch was spending a few weeks near Arles. Around 8 July, Vincent mentioned Boch in a letter to his brother Théo: "I very much like the looks of this young man with his distinctive face, like a razor blade, and his green eyes".
On 11 August, his idea began to take shape: "I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams great dreams, who works like the nightingale sings, because it is his nature to do so. This man will be blond. I would like to convey in the picture my appreciation, the love that I have for him. So I will paint him just as he is, as faithfully as I can [...].
Behind his head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of this shabby appartment, I will paint infinity, I will do a simple background of the richest blue, the most intense blue that I can create, and through this simple combination of the bright head against this rich, blue background, I will obtain a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of an azure sky".
Two weeks later, Boch sat for Van Gogh. "Well, thanks to him I have at last the first sketch of this painting that I have dreamt of for so long – The Poet. He sat for me. His fine head with his green eyes stands out in my portrait against a starry sky of deep ultramarine; he wears a short, yellow jacket, a collar of unbleached linen and a colourful tie".