Vincent Van Gogh - Femme semant/Peasant Woman Sowing with a Basket
Vincent Van Gogh
Femme semant/Peasant Woman Sowing with a Basket
Black chalk drawing, heightened with white, and watercolour on wove paper, laid down on card and panel 62.2 x 47.2 cm Framed under glass. Unsigned. - Professionally restored traces of age.
“I brought Conté in wood (and pencils as well) from The Hague, and am now working a lot with it. I'm also starting to work with the brush and the stump. With a little sepia or indian ink, and now and then with a bit of colour. It's quite certain that the drawings I've been making lately don't much resemble anything I've made up till now.” (Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, ed. by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker, Amsterdam, The Hague 2010, Letter 172)
Vincent van Gogh's exceptionally large work on paper, the “Peasant Woman Sowing with a Basket”, is from the group of works that the artist emphatically mentioned to his brother in September of 1881. The chalk drawing is subtly toned by means of variously coloured watercolour accents and was created in the autumn of 1881 in Etten, near Breda, where van Gogh's father was the local minister and where the young artist was living at that time. As the only known depiction of a female sower working in the fields, this rare early work was included as a loan in the 1988 exhibition “Van Gogh & Millet”, held at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh (cf. exhib. cat. op. cit., Amsterdam 1988, p. 171). The still-life painter Jan (Johannes) Dona was this sheet's first owner and also an artist friend of H.P. Bremmer, who served as artistic advisor to Helene Kröller-Müller from 1908 to 1928. At that time, Bremmer played a decisive role in developing the unique van Gogh collection of what is now the Kröller-Müller Museum. The majority of the drawings from this phase of the artist's work are now to be found there and at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum.
Van Gogh's artistic occupation with provincial peasant life and his depictions of the rural population at work in the fields, digging, sowing or reaping, are characterised by a sensitive striving to grasp a way of life defined by numerous hardships. Even in his earliest works the artist was already able to give expression to his great emotional closeness to the portrayed figures; he succeeds in translating the nature of human existence into familiar images in a way that is inimitable. “Melancholy and compassion always made their way into the objects and figures that he used to develop his images. In the act of painting, the emotional world of the artist became independent and objective by recognising itself entirely directly in the counterpart of the motif.” (I. F. Walther, R. Metzger: Vincent van Gogh, vol. 1, Cologne 1989, p. 102)
In keeping with the taste of his time, van Gogh quickly developed a marked interest in the social-romantic work of artists like Jean-François Millet or Jules Breton. The “Sower” (de la Faille F 830, Hulsker 1; see comparative illus.), from the spring of 1881, is a drawing after Millet's eponymous painting from 1850, which is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This work, which is mentioned a number of times in van Gogh's letters, is to be found as the first entry in Jan Hulsker's catalogue raisonné and prominently points to the theme of farm life, which was already so central for van Gogh's early work. In this context Vincent would write to his brother Theo, still in September of 1881: “Diggers, sowers, ploughers, men and women I must now draw constantly. [...] Just as many others have done and are doing. I'm no longer so powerless in the face of nature as I used to be.” (Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, op. cit., ibid.)
In the present drawing, van Gogh depicts the sower in all of her dignity and seriousness. The view filling the entire sheet and the figure's upright posture, but also the powerful contours and the selectively articulated details, impressively testify to van Gogh's almost conceptual understanding of the motif. The artist presumably selected Johanna van Peer as the model for this work. She was the wife of Cornelis Schuitemaker, who served as the model for a number of van Gogh's works, including the old peasant in front of the fireplace in the drawing “Worn Out” (de la Faille F 863, Hulsker 51).
With drawings like “Peasant Woman Sowing with a Basket”, Vincent van Gogh moves towards that spartan mentality of austere rural life to which he would give expression four years later in his portraits of the "Potato Eaters" (for instance de la Faille F 1661, Hulsker 737; see comparative illus.). And, beyond that, the theme of the world of farm work and farm life would continue to prove defining for his artistic legacy: even in the final years of his life, van Gogh repeatedly occupied himself with the topoi of sowing and harvesting as symbols of earthly becoming and passing away.
de la Faille (1970) F 883; de la Faille (1992) F 883; Hulsker 53
We would like to thank Teio Meedendorp, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, for complementary information on the work.
Jan Dona, The Hague; Galerie D. A. Hoogendyk, Amsterdam; Galerie Hermann Abels, Cologne; Private possession (since 1926)
Walther Vanbeselaere, De Hollandsche Periode (1880-1885) in het werk van Vincent van Gogh, Antwerp 1937, no. 883 (no illus.), p. 54, p. 408; Vincent van Gogh, Sämtliche Briefe, vol. 1. An den Bruder Theo, pub. by Fritz Erpel, Zurich 1967, Letter 150, p. 242 f.; The complete letters of Vincent van Gogh, pub. by New York Graphic Society, Boston 1978, p. 237 ff. Letter 149 ff., September 1881; Vincent van Gogh, De brieven, De volledige, geïllustreerde en geannoteerde uitgave, publ. by Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 2009, Deel 1, Brieven 166-193
Cologne 1925 (Kunstsalon Hermann Abels), Gemälde, Graphik, Plastik, cat. p. 44 f. with illus.; Amsterdam 1988/1989 (Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh), Van Gogh & Jean François Millet, cat. no. 69, p. 171 with colour illus. ("Zaiiende Vrouw"); until 2015 as a loan at Picasso-Museum, Münster