Vincent van Gogh
(Groot-Zundert, 1853-1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)
Peasant Woman, Head, 1885
Oil on canvas, mounted on a panel, 41 x 30.5 cm
De la Faille 80
Van Gogh’s central theme during his two years at Nuenen is not landscape; he wants to be a painter of peasant life. Though he was prevented from sharing everything with the very poor in the Borinage, he wants at least to champion in paint the peasants and weavers whom he paints and draws in their simple cottages at their daily tasks or accompanies into the fields in order to record the work of digging, sowing and harvesting. He feels related to the Barbizon masters and seeks to carry on the ideas pioneered by Jean-Francois Millet. Thus in his work at Nuenen he is the precursor of Gerhart Hauptmann’s weavers (1893) and the graphic art of Käthe Kollwitz.
This race of Brabant peasants and weavers is not beautiful; heavy toil in all seasons has put its mark on them. Van Gogh never tires of painting them in their murky huts, especially in winter when they are glad to earn models’ fees (the money being supplied by Theo). More than forty such studies are done; van Gogh thinks that one or another of them, "even if they are now worthless", will later on have their value. The colour of these peasants’ heads van Gogh once compared with that "of a dusty unpeeled potato", this reminds him of what was said of Millet’s peasants: His peasants seem to have been painted with the earth on which they cast the seed".