Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Nuenen, March-May 1885
oil on canvas,
42.2 cm x 34.5 cm
Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Did Van Gogh care if his models were good-looking or not? He chose this woman for her appearance, but not for the reason you might expect.
He was looking specifically for country people, both men and women, who had ‘coarse, flat faces with low foreheads and thick lips’. He wanted to paint 50 of them as what he called ‘study heads’. Their facial features were intended to show that they lived in close communion with nature and the land they farmed. Van Gogh’s interest in physiognomy may seem odd to us now, but in his own time it was not unusual.