Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Property from a Private American Collection Partly because of the sheer quantity of exceptional works on paper van Gogh produced, the extraordinary richness of this aspect of his oeuvre remains to be fully explored. On his death, van Gogh left approximately 800 paintings and more than 1100 drawings. At the outset, van Gogh struggled to define himself as an artist while not yet having enjoyed the benefits of any many of extended academic training. He was largely self-taught, relying on his own resources, some smartly intuitive notions about how to proceed, and persistent hard work. For several years he dedicated himself to sketching and drawing in order to learn how to represent perspective, volume and line. As art students have done for centuries, he used this foundation in drawing to support more advanced lessons in using color and oil paints. These were challenges he was reluctant to take on until he felt that his drawing skills had matured. Along every step of the way, he knew precisely what he was doing, and when to do it. But it all began with drawing. Vincent wrote his brother Theo in 1883, "Drawing is the root of everything" (Letter 290). In The Hague from 1882, van Gogh began a series of pen or pencil and ink landscapes and studies in perspective (see The Bench, lot 22). The Hague was the first locale where van Gogh succeeded in finding townspeople who would model in his studio for a reasonable fee. The pencil drawings he completed at this time were frequently executed using a broad wood carpenter's pencil, which gave van Gogh the freedom to alternate between fine and broad lines (see Woman by the wash tub, lot 20). Van Gogh fixed many of these drawings with a surface application of milk, which may temporarily have darkened the shiny graphite lines to the matt, chalk-like surface he desired. van Gogh also tried his hand at painting opaque watercolors, in order to prepare himself for working in oils. These fine early paintings on paper are accomplished, expressive and relatively rare (see Pollard Willow, lot 23 and The Iron Mill in The Hague, lot 26). The end of van Gogh's Dutch period coincided with the real beginnings of his career as a painter. From 1886 to 1888 van Gogh lived in Paris and became immersed in the art world there. View from Vincent's Window (see lot 24) shows the artist confidently applying his deftly descriptive line to the latest developments in progressive Parisian painting. Vincent would never cease drawing; as he had predicted, his early works on paper formed "the root" of his great work to come.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

Woman by the Wash Tub in the Garden

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Woman by the Wash Tub in the Garden
signed 'Vincent' (lower right)
black chalk, pen and ink and pencil on paper
12 5/8 x 10 3/8 in. (32 x 26.4 cm.)
Executed in Neunen, September-October 1885
Scott & Fowles; sale, The Anderson Galleries, New York, 3-4 April 1924, lot 290.
J.W. Böhler, Lucerne.
Robert von Hirsch, Basel; sale, Sotheby's, London, 27 June 1978, lot 842.
Max Sachar.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 29 June 1983, lot 109.
Acquired by the present owner circa 2000.
W. Vanbeselaere, De Hollandsche periode in het werk van Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, 1937, pp. 275, 395, 412.
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh. His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, p. 452, no. 1284 (illustrated).
J. Hulsker, The Complete van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, New York, 1980, p. 201, no. 907 (illustrated).
A. Wofsy, ed., and J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh. The Complete Works on Paper. Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1992, vol. I, p. 329 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. CXIV).
Basel, Kunsthalle, Vincent van Gogh, 1947, no. 145.
Frankfurt am Main, Städelsches Kunstinstitut; Zurich, Kunsthaus, and London, Royal Academy, Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Robert von Hirsch, 1978, no. 146.

Lot Essay

"What is drawing?" Vincent van Gogh asked in an 1882 letter to his brother Theo. "How does one learn it? It is working through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How is one to get through that wall--since pounding at it is of no use? In my opinion one has to undermine that wall, filing through it steadily and patiently." [Letter: 237] By the early fall of 1885, van Gogh had been successfully "filing through," or shortening the distance between what his sensibility demanded he draw or paint, and what he was technically able to accomplish. Drawings from Nuenen, like Woman by the washtub, with their exploration of volumetric forms, genre and labor, were an integral part of that learning process.

In sharp contrast to the class isolation and unidealized labor of Edgar Degas's urban laundresses (fig. 1), or even Honoré Daumier's sympathetic washerwomen by the Seine, the stooped woman in van Gogh's drawing seems to affirm her connection to the larger life of the community. Clad in her pendulous skirt and workers' clogs, the woman stoops to scrub clothes in her washtub, assuming a pose strikingly similar to one Van Gogh used to depict farmers harvesting or planting in the fields. This may connect the "women's work" of washing clothes with the other traditional components of rural labor which van Gogh heroicized, such as the manifold chores of farming, which similarly contributed to the welfare of the community.

The present drawing belongs to a small group of peasant women from Van Gogh's 1885 series of Nuenen rural labor. Although the background of the present drawing is more completely rendered, it is very similar in composition to Peasant Woman at the Wash Tub, now in the Kröller-Müller Museum. (Hulsker, no. 906). It should also be related to Peasant Woman, Spreading out the Laundry (Hulsker, no. 907). In the latter drawing, the peasant woman takes up a smaller area of the page, as van Gogh included more details of the landscape around her.

Around the time Woman by the wash tub was executed, van Gogh was unjustly accused of impregnating a young girl in the vicinity. A local priest made it his mission to condemn the artist, with the result that by September he found it difficult to convince the peasants of Nuenen to pose for him. The artist--who once wrote to his brother, "Drawing is the root of everything" [Letter 290]--considered moving to Antwerp in order to continue his pursuit of a more formal artistic education. By the end of 1885, the local situation had made it necessary for him to leave if he hoped to continue working. In the end, van Gogh's stay in Antwerp would be a short one. A few months later, the artist moved to Paris to make a new start, and thus definitively ended the richly promising and formative Dutch period of his career.

(fig. 1) Edgar Degas, Les repasseuses (Women Ironing), 1884. Courtesy of The Norton Simon Foundation, Los Angeles. BARCODE 20625160

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