Vincent van Gogh - Peasant Woman Digging 1885

Peasant Woman Digging 1885
Peasant Woman Digging
Oil on canvas on panel 42.0 x 32.0 cm. Nuenen: August, 1885
Birmingham: Barber Institute of Fine Arts,
University of Birmingham

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From Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham:
In such works he uses a palette of drab earth colours far removed from the vibrant contrasting pigments of his later radical paintings. He wrote to his brother in July 1885 about a ‘woman … seen from the front, her head almost on the ground, digging carrots’. ‘I have been watching those peasant figures for more than a year and a half’, he added, ‘just to catch their character’. The artist was convinced that he got ‘better results by painting them in their roughness than by giving them a conventional charm’.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, between Thursday, 1 and Saturday, 3 December 1881.
My dear Theo,
As you see, I’m writing to you from The Hague. I’ve been here since last Sunday. As you know, Mauve had planned to come and stay in Etten for a few days. I was afraid nothing would come of it or that it would be all too short and thought, I’ll go and try it another way, and if possible deal with it somewhat more drastically. I spoke to Mauve and said, would you approve if I were to come and trouble you for a good month or so – then when that time is up I’ll be past the first petty vexations of painting and will go back to Het Heike.
Well, Mauve immediately installed me in front of a still life consisting of a couple of old clogs and other objects, and so I could set to work.
And I also go to him in the evenings to draw. I’m staying near Mauve in a small boarding-house where I pay 30 guilders a month for bed and breakfast. So if I count on the 100 francs from you then I can manage. And Mauve gives me hope that I’ll be making something saleable quite soon. Anyway, Mauve said, ‘I always thought you were a bloody bore, but now I see that this isn’t so’, and I can assure you that these plain-spoken words from M. give me more satisfaction than a whole cartload of Jesuitical compliments would give me. Mauve may write to you himself soon.
‘Meanwhile’ I’ve been to Amsterdam. J.P.S. was rather angry, although he expressed it in more polished words than God damn you. But all the same, I don’t regret my visit there.
What to do now – because I must tell you that I didn’t return less in love than I went.
Not because she encouraged me, though. On the contrary, for a moment or rather 24 hours or so she made me extremely miserable. But on reflection, I thought I’d noticed from a certain something that ‘things are progressing anyway’. On reflection, I say, reflecting on more than things romantic and sentimental.
But it’s becoming less and less like ‘picking strawberries in the spring’ — so much the better – the ‘strawberries’ will crop up later in their own good time!
I also went briefly to see Willemien, who looks well and healthy and cheerful. What a sweet girl she’s becoming, or rather is. I’ve also been to see Mr Tersteeg, and of the painters I’ve met (the merry) Weissenbruch and Jules Bakhuyzen and De Bock.
In short, Theo, every day I’ll become more of a realist in all things, I think. She, thank God, is also something very real.
Well, I send you regards, also from Mauve and Jet, and believe me,
Ever yours,
As soon as Mauve lets me, I’ll send you another drawing, but M. says I have to save all my studies. Especially figure studies. But M. says I’ll be learning to make watercolours within a relatively short time.