Skip to content


An image of Head of a peasant by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

(Netherlands 30 Mar 1853 – 29 Jul 1890)

Head of a peasant
Other titles:
Head of a peasant: Study for 'The Potato Eaters'
Media category
Materials used
oil on canvas

39.4 x 30.2 cm stretcher; 59.3 x 50.0 x 7.5 cm frame

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Purchase 1990
Accession number
19th & 20th c European art
Further information

Without the obsessive regime of self-instruction and direct observation from nature that typified his Nuenen period, it is doubtful we would know Vincent van Gogh today. A late starter, the almost 30-year-old van Gogh made up for lost artistic time in a fever of drawing and painting that culminated in his first masterpiece, 'The potato eaters', finished in 1885. Between December 1884 and the completion of this rustic nocturne, he produced forty bust-length portraits of peasant types: a series of Heads of the People as it were. Van Gogh's socialist sympathies are apparent in every one. Vigorously brushed and soberly coloured, they take substance from the darkness around them. Fiery highlights on flesh and fabric suggest lamplight. Indeed, 'The potato eaters' is lit by paraffin. The present brooding study in all likelihood shows Antonius van Rooij, paterfamilias of the group. Van Gogh yearned to share in the social simplicity and moral certainty of this man. That he could not do so, though painful to him, left open the way to art.

AGNSW Handbook, 1999.

Provenance (6)

G. Albert Aurier (France, d.1892), 1890-1892, Chateauroux/France, acquired through Theo van Gogh

Mrs S. Williame-Aurier (France), post 1892, Chateauroux/France

Mrs E. Mahe-Williame (France), pre 01 Jul 1970, Aix-en-Provence/France, sold Sotheby's London, 1 July 1970

Private Collection, post 01 Jul 1970, England

Hilmar Reksten, pre 02 Apr 1990, Norway, Sold Christie's London, 2 April 1990 'Impressionist and Modernist Paintings and Sculpture', lot no. 19, 'Property from the Hilmar Reksten Collection, sold on behalf of the bankrupt estate of the late Hilmar Reksten'.

Christie's London, 02 Apr 1990, London/England, Purchased by the AGNSW from Christie's London, 2 April 1990 'Impressionist and Modernist Paintings and Sculpture' lot 19

Bibliography (17)

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Great gifts, great patrons: an exhibition celebrating private patronage of the Gallery, Sydney, 1994. no pagination or catalogue numbers

Edmund Capon, Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Annual Report 1997, Sydney, 1997, 16 (colour illus.).

Christie's London (Editor), Christie's London: Impressionist and Modern Paintings and Sculpture, London, 02 Apr 1990, 50 (colour illus.), 51. 19

Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano, Vincent van Gogh: Timeless Country - Modern City, 2010, 126 (colour illus.), 237.

J.B. de la Fialle, The works of Vincent Van Gogh, his paintings and drawings, London, 1970, 96 (illus.). 160a, as collection of Mrs E. Mahe-Williame, Aix-en-Provence.

Renée Free, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'The Western Heritage, Renaissance to Twentieth Century', pg. 108-172, Sydney, 1994, 140, 141 (colour illus.).

S. Helliesen, Hilmar Rekstens Samlinger, Norway, Unknown, (illus.). 25

Jan Hulsker, The complete van Gogh; paintings, drawings, sketches, Oxford, 1980, 129 (illus.). 563, dated as December 1884, whereabouts unknown.

Colta Ives, Susan Alyson Stein, Sjraar van Heugten and Marije Vellekoop, Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings, New York, 2005, 108 (illus.). fig.99, illustrated in reference to 25 'Head of man' 1884-1885, collection Van Gogh Museum

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', pg. 17-77, Sydney, 1999, 46 (colour illus.).

George S. Keyes, Van Gogh Face to Face: The Portraits, 'The Dutch roots of Vincent van Gogh', pg. 21-49, Detroit, 2000, 39 (colour illus.), 40. 18

P. Lecaldano, L'opera pittorica completa di van Gogh, Milan, 1977, 102 (illus.). 143

John Rewald, Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1956, 36 (illus.). Private collection, Aix-en-Provence

Judith Ryan (Editor), Shell presents Van Gogh: his sources, genius and influence, Sydney, 1993, 70, 71 (colour illus.). 30

Louis van Tilborgh, The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh, Netherlands, 1993, 92 (illus.). 15

Michael Wardell, Look, 'Foundation building', pg.14-17, Newtown, Sep 2004, 15.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Art and Australia (Vol. 28, No. 3), Sydney, Autumn 1991, 338 (illus.). 1

Exhibition history (4)

Shell presents Van Gogh: his sources, genius and influence:

Great gifts, great patrons, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Aug 1994–19 Oct 1994

Van Gogh: Face to Face:

Vincent van Gogh: Timeless country - modern city, Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano, Rome, 07 Oct 2010–20 Feb 2011