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Van Gogh as a Peasant Painter

Van Gogh as a Peasant Painter

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Published by JOHN A WALKER
an essay on the depiction of peasants in the paintings of vincent van gogh
an essay on the depiction of peasants in the paintings of vincent van gogh

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: JOHN A WALKER on Jan 02, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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03/03/2011

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VAN GOGH AS A PEASANT PAINTER (1979).John A. Walker, Copyright 2011.
It would be erroneous to assert that van Gogh was exclusively a peasant painter because he depicted other subjects - flower pieces, self-portraits,landscapes, townscapes - besides peasants; nevertheless, images of peasantsmake up a large proportion of his artistic output and at various times duringthe early part of his artistic career he drew and painted little else.
Class origins
There is no uncertainty about Vincent's class origins. He was born into theDutch petty bourgeoisie (his father was a parson, his uncles were art and print dealers, his cousin Anton Mauve was an artist). Because Vincent spenthis youth in small villages where his father had been posted by the Church,he grew up in environments where the majority of those surrounding himwere peasants. His companions at school were, therefore, peasant boys. Infact, his parents withdrew him from the public primary school because theydiscovered that contact with the peasant boys was making him 'too rough'. Nevertheless, it was with miners and the poor peasantry that Vincent
 
 
eventually identified emotionally rather than with the class into which hehad been born. Indeed, there came a time when Vincent found the hypocrisy,self-righteousness, prudishness, and materialism of the Dutch middle classintolerable. In an early letter to his brother Theo, Vincent declared:
"Being alabourer, I feel at home in the labouring class, and more and more I will try to live and take root there.’ 
(1)
Character and political attitudes
Vincent came from a deeply religious, puritanical background in which theidea of service to humanity was paramount. Most of his life Vincent waslonely; he never married or had a fully satisfactory relationship with awoman even though he longed to found a family of his own. To fulfil hissexual needs Vincent had to resort to prostitutes. He is often thought of as a primitive individual but in fact he was extremely literate, he was widelytravelled, and he was fluent in three languages. He detested useless study,nevertheless he was an intellectual. Despite his sympathy for the poor and oppressed, his class origin, his learning, his temperament, and hisvocation as an artist, kept him isolated from the people he wished toserve. He did not take part in their collective struggles directly; he did
 
 
not, for example, join a trade union or a political party or depict the positive aspects of the workers' struggle; hence, his pictures of them tendto be gloomy, melancholy and despairing even when the colours he usesare at their brightest.The family situation into which he was born encouraged in him amorbid fascination with death and for psychological reasons he wasreceptive to the ethic of suffering propagated by Christianity (the idea of redemption through suffering). In consequence, it was easy for Vincent tofind in the objective world examples of suffering that corresponded to hissubjective feelings of misery. What was internal found external justification, what was private and individual became public and social.Julius Meier-Graefe, in an early study of Vincent (1906), declaredunequivocally that van Gogh was a Socialist but his article did not provideany hard evidence for this claim. (2) There is, however, at least one letter toTheo which reveals Vincent's political convictions. In this letter Vincentdiscusses certain political events in France and Delacroix's explicitly political painting
'Liberty leading the People' 
and then declares that in anyrevolution he would expect Theo to side with the government forces andhimself with the insurrectionists. He continues:
"Neither you nor I meddlewith politics, but we live in a the world, in society, and involuntarily ranks

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