Religious connotation

Van Gogh often paints peasant men and women digging. He undoubtedly takes that motif from Jean-François Millet. The toil of people digging reminded the French painter of Genesis 3:19: ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…’ Van Gogh also has this connotation with diggers.

Figures in action

In Peasant women digging up potatoes he does his best to depict the women in action: ‘Rather than saying there has to be character in a digger – I describe it by saying […] this digger has to dig’. That is why he shows the women bending over: ‘being in the process of working is perhaps something that a lot of vertical lines in the composition would make harder to express’.

Peasant clothing

The peasant women wear blue smocks. Van Gogh finds the simple, mostly blue peasant clothing ‘very beautiful’; this has ‘struck me here from the first’, he writes to Theo. It gives him the opportunity to contrast different shades of dark and light blue with ‘gold tones or reddish brown’.