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Head of a Peasant Woman in a White Bonnet, 1885

Vincent van Gogh

Dutch, 1853-1890
Oil on canvas
18-1/2 x 13-3/4 in. (47.0 x 35.0 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Vincent van Gogh executed nearly 50 studies of heads in preparation for his first large-scale painting, The Potato Eaters (1885). Head of a Peasant Woman in a White Bonnet is one of 10 studies representing Sien de Groot, the artist’s mistress and the figure second from the left in the final painting. Van Gogh called the series “Heads of the People,” and he used working-class laborers for his subject matter because he thought their lives—simple and honest—would “teach something” to the urban bourgeoisie. The color, which is limited to black-infused red, blue, yellow and white, emphasizes the dirtiness of the figure, while the thick impasto reinforces the coarseness of her features. Together with the palette, these elements directly connect her to the earth off which she lived.

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