Head of a woman, 1884

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

  • Black chalk on wove paper, 40 x 33 cm
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
    (Vincent van Gogh Stichting)
  • F 1182

Van Gogh produced this drawing of a peasant woman, her careworn face marked by adversity, between December 1884 and May 1885. During this period he was working with great discipline on studies of Nuenen’s peasant population. With her absent, introverted gaze this woman seems to symbolise the hardships of peasant life.
Virtually all the artist’s studies of heads, arms and hands were building blocks for one large painting with several figures, The potato eaters, from 1885. Head of a woman, which is more detailed in execution that the majority of these studies, is also one of the preparatory works for this famous painting.

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Van Gogh’s study was inspired by the series Heads of the people, which was reproduced in the English journal The Graphic. The artist aimed to produce a similar series of Nuenen peasants, and regarded his studies of heads as representations of specific character types, rather than portraits of individuals. This is why he sought out ‘rough, coarse faces with low forehead and thick lips, not that sharp type but full and Milletesque’. Throughout his career as an artist Van Gogh would be inspired by the work of the French artist Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) and his depiction of peasant life.

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