Van Gogh wants to paint the peasants ‘in their coarseness’ and not glorify peasant life, as is the norm in painting. Accordingly, he is not concerned with true-to-life portraits, but with ‘types’ that symbolize a larger group. By repeatedly studying the same model, he arrives at something ‘different from an ordinary study, more true to type, that’s to say: more felt’.

Coarse features

This study is painted against a night sky. In the background are two trees – barely visible – to the left and right of the face. The woman has coarse features and wears her hair under a small cap, which makes her appear to have short hair. This head is therefore often mistaken for that of a man.


Van Gogh is always consciously looking for specific models. This woman probably also posed for several of his drawings. In her, he undoubtedly recognizes the type of peasant woman that he so admires in the work of his great example Jean François Millet: ‘coarse, flat faces with low foreheads and thick lips, not that sharp look, but full’.