Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)


Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
oil on canvas laid down on panel
14 3/8 x 17 5/8 in. (36.6 x 45 cm.)
Painted in February 1884
C. Mouwen, Jnr., Breda.
Oldenzeel Art Gallery, Rotterdam.
H.P. Bremmer, The Hague.
By descent from the above.
J.B. de la Faille, L'oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue Raisonné, Dessins, Aquarelles, Lithographies, Paris and Brussels, 1928, p. 52, no. 162.
W. Vanbeselaere, De Hollandsche Periode (1880-1885) in het Werk van Vincent van Gogh, Antwerp, 1937, pp. 281, 317 and 415.
J.B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1939, no. 180 (illustrated).
J.B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, London, 1970, no. 162 (illustrated, p. 150; titled Weaver: the whole loom, facing right).
R. Lecaldano, L'Opera Pittorica Completa di Van Gogh, Milan, 1977, p. 94, no. 36 (illustrated).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Oxford, 1980, no. 457 (illustrated).
I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: Sämtliche Gemälde, Cologne, 1989, vol. I, p. 36 (illustrated).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 1996, p. 108, no. 457 (illustrated, p. 109).
(probably) Rotterdam, Kunstzalen Oldenzeel, November 1903.
Basel, Kunsthalle, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), October-November 1947, no. 7.
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, De Arbeid in de Kunst: Van Meunier tot Permeke, April-June 1952, no. 36.
Paris, Museé Jacquemart-André, Vincent van Gogh, February-March 1960, no. 6.
Gemeentemuseum, The Hague (on loan from the heirs of H.P. Bremmer, 1929-1976).

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Mariana Gantus
Mariana Gantus

Lot Essay

In September 1883 Van Gogh ended his liaison with Sien Hoornik, and left The Hague, spending two months in the town of Drenthe before arriving in Nuenen during early December to live with his parents. He was eager to begin painting again, and took up an idea that he had been considering for a couple of years, a series of pictures depicting local weavers engaged in their handiwork.

The Dutch province of Brabant had been celebrated since medieval times for the quality of its textiles. However, with the emergence of industrialized manufacturing in the 19th century and intense competition from England, local textile production in Brabant lost its distant markets and was largely relegated to less lucrative domestic consumption. Most of the work was done in the homes of independent rural artisans, and very few weavers could keep up with advances in textile technology. Their ability to make a living was further threatened as the Brabant textile industry began to concentrate in such larger urban centers as Leiden, Tilburg and Eindhoven. Onetime entrepreneurs joined a growing army of wage-earning workers, few of whom still owned their looms. They were poorly paid and forced to live in squalid slums. Van Gogh was deeply sympathetic to the plight of the local independent artisan, and he wanted to capture a traditional way of life that was quickly eroding in the face of progress.

Van Gogh made his first watercolor drawings of weavers in late December, choosing his subjects from among those who lived in his neighborhood. The weavers' rooms were usually small and cramped, and van Gogh frequently found it difficult to stand back far enough to sketch the entire loom. He was fascinated with these machines, and they are as an important a character in these paintings as the weavers themselves. He often sought out the oldest and most technologically primitive examples he could find--some were a century old. Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, "These looms will cost me a lot of hard work, yet in reality they are such splendid things, all that old oakwood against a grayish wall, I certainly believe it is a good thing that they are painted once in a while" (Letter 367).

In many studies he is careful to show every knob, beam and strut of the loom, and he understood the anatomy of this machine far more completely than he did the human figure at this time. Between the beginning of the year and April 1884, he completed nearly twenty drawings and watercolors, and seven oil paintings, including the present work. He did a second group during that summer, together with scenes of men and women spinning thread at their wheels. As the series progressed and the artist mastered the details of the loom, he began to concentrate on variations in lighting and mood, and he created elaborate and detailed interior settings for the looms and their handlers. The skills that he acquired in painting the figure in a fully developed interior would pay considerable dividends when he turned to work on the two versions of the famous Potato Eaters (Hulsker, nos. 734 and 764), the masterpieces of his early career, which he completed in April and May 1885.

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