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

Planteuse de betteraves

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Planteuse de betteraves
signed, titled and dated ‘Vincent planteuse de betteraves - Juin -’ (lower left)
black chalk on paper
18 1/8 x 20 ¾ in. (46.2 x 52.8 cm.)
Drawn in Nuenen, June 1885
Hidde Nijland, The Hague (before 1904).
Dirk Hidde Nijland, Santpoort (by descent from the above, by 1931).
Huinck & Scherjon, Co., Amsterdam (possibly acquired from the above, by June 1953).
Coleman Art Gallery, Philadelphia (by 1961).
E.R. Schaible, Easton, Pennsylvania.
Anon. sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 16 December 1970, lot 13.
Rose Faggen, New York (acquired at the above sale); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 9 May 2007, lot 2.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, p. 451, no. 1272a (illustrated, p. 450).
J. Hulsker, The Complete van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, New York, 1980, pp. 182-183, no. 822 (illustrated, p. 183).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Works on Paper Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1992, vol. I, p. 326, no. 1272a (illustrated, vol. II, pl. CCXXVII).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 182, no. 822 (illustrated, p. 183).
A. de Robertis and M. Smolizza, Vincent van Gogh: Le opere disperse: oltre 1000 disegni e depinti citanti dall'artista e introvabili, Nuoro, 2005, p. 160 (titled Contadina che pianta barbabietole).
T. Meedendorp, Drawings and Prints of Vincent van Gogh in the Collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 2007, pp. 422 and 424.
G. Lowry, intro., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Supplement, New York, 2015, vol. V, pp. 14 and 35-37, no. 6 (illustrated in color, p. 35).
Amsterdam, Kunsthandel Huinck & Scherjon, Tentoonstelling van schilderijen, aquarellen, tekeningen en beeldhouwwerken uit de verzameling, June-July 1953, no. 10 (dated 1883-1885).
Philadelphia, Coleman Art Gallery, Art is Forever: Loan Collectors' Exhibition, June 1961.
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Lot Essay

On 6 May 1885, Vincent van Gogh dispatched from Nuenen via post to his brother Theo in Paris a case containing the second, revised, and larger version of The Potato Eaters, which he had recently completed. The artist considered this painting a significant achievement, his finest, most personally definitive work to date. Theo’s response to the picture, however, was roundly critical, in matters of execution, content, and effect. Devastated, Vincent fired off one letter after another to Theo defending the blunt naturalism in The Potato Eaters, any shortcomings in the painting’s structure and his technique, and, most ardently, the worthiness of his peasant subjects.
“As always, Vincent’s art followed where his arguments led,” Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have observed. “Throughout the summer of 1885, in an outpouring of work that matched the outpouring of words, he hectored his brother with images in support of The Potato Eaters” (Van Gogh: A Life, New York, 2011, p. 445). Between June and September, Vincent completed nearly seventy full-length figure studies, many on large sheets, of peasants at work in the fields around Nuenen, as they gathered in the July harvest or broke ground for fall crops (Hulsker, nos. 821ff).
Planteuse des betteraves, dated ‘Juin,' is among the earliest in this group, and set a high bar for the drawings that followed. Vincent’s efforts “turned out to have a spectacular result,” Sjraar van Heugten declared, “for the figure studies of working peasant men and women from the summer of 1885 are almost overwhelming in their monumentality and expressivity and are among the most successful figures in van Gogh's entire oeuvre" (Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, p. 58).
As her day’s work, the peasant woman in Planteuse des betteraves is digging out a shallow hole along a line in the field in which to insert a beetroot plant for harvest later that summer. It is one of two sheets of similar size that depict this activity, pose, and the same farm implements; the other is in a vertical format (Faille, no. 1270; Hulsker, no. 821). Both studies were likely drawn during the same session; each is titled and signed “Vincent”. The helpful dating appears only in this drawing, and a few others elsewhere in the larger group. The artist wished to show these sheets to Theo and perhaps some colleagues who had expressed an interest in following the progress of his work. He likely considered painting a large harvest composition, an outdoor complement to the domestic Potato Eaters. Any such project, however, went unrealized.
Throughout the series, female field workers greatly outnumber the men, and among the women nearly half of the poses show, as here, the figure doubled forward in this arduous posture, seen from various angles. Seeking to forestall further criticism of his drawing technique, Vincent followed Delacroix’s advice—“Work not from the outlines, but from the center”—to create more convincing volumetric forms (quoted in, ibid., p. 8). “In these new drawings I’m starting the figures with the torso," Vincent explained to Theo, “and it seems to me that they’re fuller and broader as a result. If 50 aren’t enough, I’ll draw 100 of them, and if that’s still not enough, even more, until I’ve got what I want solidly, that’s to say that everything is round, and there is as it were neither beginning nor end anywhere on the form, but it constitutes a single, harmonious, living whole” (Letters, no. 506; 2 June 1885). The composite effect in the present drawing of multiple, interweaving arabesques, echoed in the folds of the peasant’s clothing, attests to the artist’s success.
During the spring of 1885 the walls of Vincent’s Kerkstraat studio filled with his studies for The Potato Eaters, hung among the many Millet prints he had collected. “I say again,” he wrote Theo, “Millet—is PÈRE Millet, that is, counselor and guide in everything, for the younger painters” (Letters, no. 493; 13 April 1885). Vincent carried a sketch book on morning hikes into the fields around Nuenen to “tackle whatever I see people doing in the fields or a home” (Letters, no. 492; to Theo, 9 April 1885). “They remind one of the earth, sometimes appear to have been modelled out of it” (Letters, no. 500; 4 and 5 May 1885). He sometimes spent nights in their cottages, those “human nests” as he called them, which he also drew and painted while compiling his figure studies.
“Painting peasant life is a serious thing,” Vincent averred to Theo, “and I for one would blame myself if I didn’t try to make paintings such that they give people who think seriously about art and about life serious things to think about. Millet, Degroux, so many others, have set examples of character, of taking no notice of the reproaches of—nasty, crude, muddy, stinking...that it would be a disgrace if one were even to have misgivings...No—one must paint the peasants as if one were one of them, as feeling, thinking as they do themselves” (Letters, no. 497; 30 April 1885).
Vincent struggled to overcome his lack of technical facility by emphasizing qualities he believed to be the more enduring verities in art-marking: hard work and self-sacrifice in achieving an empowering mastery of knowledge and skill, and above all else, the ability to summon to the task a singular sincerity and intensity of feeling. “It all comes down to the degree of life and passion that an artist manages to put into his figure,” Vincent stated to Theo (Letters, no. 500; 4 and 5 May 1885).
Having asked Theo to show his studies to the older genre painter Charles Serret, Vincent insisted that his brother press upon him these points on his behalf: “Tell Serret that I would be desperate if my figures were GOOD, tell him that I don’t want them academically correct...Tell him I think Michelangelo’s figures are magnificent, even though the legs are definitely too long…Tell him that in my view Millet and Lhermitte are consequently the true painters, because they don’t paint things as they are, examined drily and analytically, but as they, Millet, Lhermitte, Michelangelo, feel them. Tell him that my great desire is to learn to make such inaccuracies, such variations, reworkings, alterations of the reality, that it might become, very well—lies if you will—but—truer than the literal truth.”
“Showing the FIGURE OF THE PEASANT IN ACTION, you see that’s what a figure is—essentially modern —the heart of modern art itself—that which neither the Greeks, nor the Renaissance, nor the old Dutch school have done. This is a matter I think about every day” (Letters, no. 515; 14 July 1885).

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