Among the peasants

Following the example of his mentor and guide Jean-François Millet, Van Gogh wants to live and work among the peasants. In order to experience their harsh existence and be able to depict it authentically, he often visits them at their homes. ‘I don’t think there’s been a day since I’ve been here when I haven’t sat working with the weavers or peasants from morning till night.’

Everyday things

His aim is to paint ‘the dead simple, most everyday things’, such as this woman who sits by a window to work. According to him, there is now more need than ever for such realism, ‘that has character and a sincere sentiment’.

A difficult effect

Van Gogh writes to Theo that he is busy painting ‘figures against the light from a window’. He doesn’t know whether he will succeed, because it is a ‘difficult effect’. In this study in oils, he examines the effect of light and backlighting and uses a dark palette to achieve highly contrasting light-dark effects. The woman stands out as a black silhouette against the incoming daylight.