Nuenen, March - April 1885 Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)
oil on canvas,
34.0 cm x 44.3 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Anton Kerssemakers, an amateur painter who took lessons from Van Gogh, recalled that Vincent’s studio was full of objects including ‘all kinds of mosses and plants brought along from the moor, some stuffed birds, a spool, a spinning wheel . . .’ The ‘spool’ might have been this bobbin winder – a device used to wind spun thread onto a bobbin or spool. Weavers in Van Gogh’s time were already working with mechanically spun thread, but the thread was still spooled manually.
The execution of the painting is deft, smooth and thin – so thin in places that the ground layer and transparent green base colour are still visible. Van Gogh was fascinated by lighting effects, and there is a powerful element of backlighting in this painting. He uses touches of light grey to represent the fall of light on the bobbin winder, while the white and yellow highlights intensify the contrasts between light and shade.
The objects were probably lit from three sides: not only by the window on the left, but also from above and by a lamp in front of the basket to the left. The shadows of the bobbin winder’s legs do not, however, tally exactly with these light sources: all three fall at different angles.