Darkness that is still colour

When Theo becomes acquainted with the work of the impressionists in Paris, painted in light, vivid colours, he urges his brother to also start painting in bright colours. Van Gogh cannot share his enthusiasm: ‘And at the same time (…) it’s perhaps not superfluous to point out how one of the most beautiful things by the painters of this century has been the painting of darkness that is still colour’.


This Head of a woman could be an exercise in painting ‘darkness that is still colour’. The contours of the face are heavily applied; Prussian blue is incorporated in the dark lines. The skin is painted in various shades of brown. For the jacket and cap, Van Gogh chooses green and brown. He uses pink to accentuate the woman’s ear and chin.

Laid out quickly

The forms are rather flat, lacking depth. Some areas of shadow under the cheekbone and the long straight part of the neck are heavily painted. The neck is relatively too light in colour and set too far back, making the woman’s head protrude forward. Van Gogh probably laid out this head quickly and did not elaborate it for long, so as not to ‘rework’ the canvas.