In early August 1883, Van Gogh writes that ‘a very heavy burden’ has fallen from his shoulders. A year earlier he just wasn’t able to paint a good figure study and it had driven him to ‘desperation’. At that time he still worked in ‘the dry manner’: ‘drawing first and then filling in the outline’. Now he knows how to approach it: first place the colours next to each other correctly and only then worry about the drawing.

‘Define the form’

In this study, Van Gogh manages to model his figure quite convincingly, even though the anatomical proportions still seem a little clumsy. He paints the beach and the sea in flowing movements with a fairly large brush, and the figure with a slightly narrower brush. His main challenge is to place the various colours in such a way that they ‘define the form’. He avoids overly complicated details, such as hands and faces: for him, the ‘effect’ is of primary importance.


Against the predominantly dark grey-green and brown background, the woman’s red cape and white cap create a modest colour and tonal effect. It is quite possible that the woman he lived with at the time, Sien Hoornik, served as the model for Fisherman’s wife.