The siesta was painted while Van Gogh was interned in a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy de Provence. The composition is taken from a drawing by Millet for Four Moments in the Day.
To justify his act, Vincent told his brother Theo: "I am using another language, that of colours, to translate the impressions of light and dark into black and white". Van Gogh often copied the works of Millet, whom he considered to be "a more modern painter than Manet".
Remaining faithful to the original composition, even down to the still life details in the foreground, Van Gogh nevertheless imposes his own style upon this restful scene which, for Millet, symbolized rural France of the 1860's.
This highly personal retranscription is achieved primarily by means of a chromatic construction based on contrasting complementary colours: blue-violet, yellow-orange. Despite the peaceful nature of the subject, the picture radiates Van Gogh's unique artistic intensity.