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Head of a peasant



Vincent van Gogh


30 Mar 1853 – 29 Jul 1890

  • Details

    Other Title
    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
    Grand Courts
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Vincent van Gogh

    Works in the collection


  • About

    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 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

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 6 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 19 publications

  • Provenance

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

    Suzanne Williame-Aurier, post 1892, Chateauroux/France, by descent

    Mrs E. Mahe-Williame, pre 01 Jul 1970, Aix-en-Provence/France, by descent, 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 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