The Potato Eaters
It would be wrong, I think, to give a peasant picture a certain
conventional smoothness. If a peasant picture smells of bacon,
smoke, potato steam -- all right, that's not unhealthy...
-- Letter to Theo, c. 30 April 1885
Van Gogh's ambition was to be a figure painter. In preparation for The Potato Eaters, his first major painting, he made more than forty studies of peasant heads, see Head of a Woman and Head of a Man. Following traditional academic practice, he also worked out the composition in many sketches. The style of the final painting, however, is most unconventional. In his desire to create "a true peasant picture" Van Gogh eschewed sentimentality, emphasizing instead the coarseness of the peasants' features as a way to suggest the harsh reality of their life.
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Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC