Vincent gave drawing and painting lessons to Paul Eugène Milliet (1863–1943), a second lieutenant in the third regiment of the Zouaves, a light infantry corps. The regiment was stationed at the Caserne Calvin barracks in Arles. Vincent probably met Milliet in early June 1888. In order to teach him properly, Vincent asked his brother Theo in Paris to look for Armand Théophile Cassagne’s book Guide de l’alphabet du dessin ou l’art d’apprendre et d’enseigner les principes rationnels du dessin d’après nature. The instructional guide had served Vincent well in his early years as an artist, and he was eager to use it to impart basic drawing principles to Milliet.
The two men became friends; their activities together included an outing to Montmajour hill near Arles in July 1888. When Milliet travelled to northern France in mid-August 1888, he delivered 36 of Vincent’s artworks to Theo in Paris. Vincent gave him a study as a thank-you gift, but which one is unknown.
Vincent painted a portrait of the young lieutenant but was not happy with the way Milliet posed: he jiggled his legs and seemed unable to sit still. Yet Vincent greatly desired to paint him
“...because he’s good-looking, very jaunty, very easy-going in his appearance, and he’d suit me down to the ground for a painting of lovers.” Read the complete letter
Vincent hung The Lover (Portrait of Lieutenant Milliet) in his bedroom alongside his portrait of Eugène Boch. The work is depicted in his painting The Bedroom.
Milliet left on 1 November 1888 for Guelma, Algeria. There was briefly talk of Vincent’s friend and fellow artist Émile Bernard going to Algeria to serve as a Zouave under Milliet. The plan was that the lieutenant would allow Bernard the freedom to pursue his artistic work and that he would receive drawing lessons in return. However, to Vincent’s disappointment, the plan never came to fruition.