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Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

Studies of Peasants Working: Sowers and Diggers (recto); A Man in front of a Farmstead: Other Sketches (verso)

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Studies of Peasants Working: Sowers and Diggers (recto);
A Man in front of a Farmstead: Other Sketches (verso)
pencil on paper (recto); chalk on paper (verso)
9 3/8 x 12 1/2 in. (23.7 x 31.7 cm.)
Executed in Saint-Rémy in January - April 1890 (recto) and spring 1890 (verso)
Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890-1909.
Paul Gachet, Auvers-sur-Oise, by descent from the above.
Paul Cassirer, Amsterdam, by whom acquired from the above circa 1937.
Estella Katzenellenbogen, Berlin & Santa Monica, by whom acquired from the above in 1937.
Walter Feilchenfeldt, Zurich, by whom acquired from the above in 1973.
The Lefevre Gallery, London, by whom acquired from the above in 1977.
Private collection, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Christie’s, London, 30 June 1992, lot 107.
J.B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1970, no. 1649 (illustrated p. 555).
Art & Antiques Weekly, 9 April 1977.
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, New York, 1980, recto: no. 1926, p. 442 (illustrated p. 443); verso: no. 1904, p. 439 (illustrated).
J.B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Works on Paper, San Francisco, 1992, no. 1649, pp. 179 & 431, vol. I (illustrated pl. CCXLII, vol. II).
London, The Lefevre Gallery, Important XIX & XX Century Works on Paper, March - May, 1977, no. 51 (illustrated p. 50).

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Laetitia Pot
Laetitia Pot

Lot Essay

During the opening months of 1890, Vincent van Gogh found himself in increasingly ill health, confined to his room at the psychiatric asylum in Saint Rémy-de-Provence to which he had committed himself the previous May. During this time, his doctors advised against painting, fearful that the swirling colours and expressive force of his compositions were adversely affecting his mental state. As a result, Van Gogh turned to drawing as a creative outlet, working from his imagination and memory, often reverting back to themes which had fascinated him several years earlier in the Netherlands. Perhaps most importantly, he returned to making copies of paintings by some of his favourite artists of the Nineteenth Century, primarily those of Jean-François Millet, working from black-and-white reproductions that he had brought with him to Saint-Rémy. In a letter to his brother Theo, dated 13 January 1890, Van Gogh expressed his admiration for this artist: ‘I find it a very happy thing that in this century there have been painters like Millet … who cannot be surpassed’ (Van Gogh, quoted in Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, vol. 5, London, 2009, p. 184). Detailing his renewed interest in these paintings, Van Gogh explained to Theo that the works he was producing were not exact copies, but rather ‘translations’ inspired by the central themes of Millet’s works.

The present sheet contains various studies of figures in action, primarily diggers and sowers, two leitmotifs which correspond directly to Millet’s representations of the rural working class. For Van Gogh, as with Millet, these diggers embodied the hard life of the peasant, toiling in the fields, turning the soil by hand, as they tried to eke out a living on the land. While some of the figures are indicated by contours alone, there are several, most notably the two diggers in the centre of the upper register, whose bodies are constructed using Van Gogh’s distinctive parallel hatching of short, powerful lines. A signature technique seen in numerous paintings of this period, these strokes curve slightly as they echo the outlines of the men’s bodies, lending the two figures an enhanced sense of energy and movement. On the verso, another quick sketch in soft chalk is visible, its lines much looser, its subject less defined than those seen on the recto. A small thatched cottage is just visible along the left hand side, while a farm labourer carrying his tools over his shoulder can be seen walking along a pathway at the centre. Exploring an assortment of poses in a variety of different scales, Van Gogh’s drawings show his intense fascination with the subject of the working classes, with each graphic stroke offering an insight into the artist’s unstoppable creative energy at this time, as he sought an alternative means of artistic expression in the face of his own personal suffering.

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