From The Norton Simon Museum of Art:
Fueled by his revolutionary politics, Van Gogh set out to paint a series of fifty “Heads of the People” in 1882, drawing inspiration for these grave, frontal portraits from the German Renaissance masters Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein. He resumed work on the project in 1884 and 1885, while living with his parents in the small town of Nuenen, where he used local peasants as models. Probably painted in April 1885, this head belongs to the planned series but also represents the artist’s mistress, Sien de Groot. Coarse, aggressive handling and a blunt, muddy palette underscore Van Gogh’s commitment to paint pictures “from the people, for the people.”
To Theo van Gogh. Etten, Sunday, 30 December 1877.
My dear Theo,
I wish you much happiness for the new year, may it be blessed for you in many ways. Those were good days, when you were here, though they didn’t last long. My holiday will be over soon, too, but I’ll stay at least a day longer because Pa’s so busy these days, and it would be good to discuss calmly how best to pursue further study.
Pa also has to preach at Princenhage on New Year’s Eve, because the Rev. Kuylman fell and hurt himself, dislocating his arm, and so is unable to take his turn on New Year’s Eve, and Pa has offered to do it for him. So Pa has to preach 9 times in 10 days. If you haven’t yet sent that map &c. to Harry Gladwell, wait a while, I hear he’s no longer in Paris, wrote to his father today. I may get a reply and will then add something to the roll.
You forgot to take the etching after Meissonier, I’ll send it to you one of these days with the lithograph after Jules Breton, The fields in winter, because I don’t want to accept it, it belongs in your collection.
It snowed last week and Cor had fun with the sledge and so did I, because I sledged on the road with him and a girl who was staying at the Hackstrohs’. Today Pa, Ma, Cor and I took a lovely walk, you should have been there.
Yesterday I saw the sewing school that Ma now holds in the consistory, it is indeed pleasant, one would like to have a painting of it, there are already quite a few children coming to it.
Another painting has occurred to me that is related to Brittany, namely Ribot, The prayer, a number of children kneeling in a corner of a church at dusk, there’s a large etching by him of the same thing, which you perhaps know. Jacque once made an etching of the same subject, but smaller.
Made a list today of everything I could remember about the French Revolution, so as to write it on the back of the map of France, and I hope gradually to expand on that work, recording, for instance, the most important things about the Middle Ages, or the time of the 80 Years’ War, and so on. One must hold on to what one has seen or what one knows, for it always comes in useful.
If you should make such lists from time to time, send them to me when you have the opportunity, then we can compare them, it’s good to do so — as far as knowledge is concerned, it’s important to hold on to what one has and to absorb it internally as much as one can; especially when one is short of money, it’s good to fill the gaps with this and similar things. Give my regards to all your housemates and wish them all the best from me. It’s not impossible that, on my way to Amsterdam, I could spend another night in The Hague and bring you the prints that you left here myself, but don’t count on it.
Adieu, again I wish you the best, and a hearty handshake in thought from
Your most loving brother