Vincent van Gogh
(Groot-Zundert, 1853-1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)
The Weeders, 1890
Oil on paper, on canvas, 49.3 x 64 cm
De la Faille 695
In the hospital of Saint-Rémy, which van Gogh was confined to from 1889 until May 1890, the dichotomy of his tragic life becomes apparent. He is not always allowed to paint in the garden and the environs of the hospital. When he is ill he has only the view from his barred cell on to the ascending field, which he paints again and again in different lights and seasons. He has no human models either, since he finds repellent the inmates dully lounging about. He longs for healthy working peasants. The reproductions of Millet, sent by Theo, make up somewhat for this. He converts them into paintings, and they become for him "recollections of the north" or "recollections of Brabant", as he almost tenderly expresses it to his mother.
"The Weeders" is truly a recollection, since even at Nuenen he had struggled to paint a picture of a woman gathering roots in the snow. Perhaps these recollections were unleashed by a snowfall at Christmastime in Saint-Rémy, of which he reports to Theo: "During my illness, white snow fell, I got up in the night to look at the countryside. Never before did the landscape seem so moving and sensitive". And so the dazzling glare of the south becomes the glistening snow of the north with the bending peasant women in the snow-covered field in front of the thatched hovels, behind which in a turbulent sky the yellowish-red sun is setting: a recollection and also a picture expressing nostalgia for the north.