The Painter of Peasant Life

Van Gogh painted among peasants, and in some part of his being he was one himself, as burdened and as earthy as a rustic out of Brueghel, as soiled and as coarse.

His studio in Nuenen was between the sewer and the dung heap. His shoes were broken, dirty things, and his mattress was straw. His poverty, his politics, his faith and his aesthetics bound him to the lowly. Van Gogh had preached the Gospel to peat-diggers and weavers, and had knelt in their mud huts, but his manners were not saintly. He smelled of wine and cheap tobacco. He got belligerent when drunk. He was really rather scary. Van Gogh couldn't help but notice that his parents shrank away from him as if he were a "foul beast." His father and his neighbors thought him ready for the madhouse. His underclothes were ruins. When proper ladies spurned him, he turned to two-franc whores.

"One must paint the peasants as if one were one of them," he wrote.

The colors of his early works are those of the earth.

Images courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation). These images are for personal, educational and non-commercial use only. They may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the National Gallery of Art.

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