National Geographic : 1997 Oct
VANGOGHMUSEUM(BOTH) THE POTATO EATERS, MAY 1885 HEAD OF A PEASANT WOMAN WITH CAP, 1885 NUENEN Their skin "the color of a very dusty potato,"peasantsgatherfor an eve ning meal in van Gogh'sfirst major paint ing, set in a hut near his parents' house in ruralNuenen. "I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating theirpotatoes in the lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish," he wrote. "It speaks of manual labor,and how they have honestly earned theirfood." To prepare, van Gogh spent the winter drawingpeasant hands and heads, such as the one at left, in a series modeled after black-and-white maga zine illustrationsdepicting the toil and mis ery of ordinarypeople. On thefinal canvas he exaggerated the coarsenessof the peas ants'featuresand the darkness of the hut, applyingpaintlike worked earth. "If a peas ant picture smells of bacon, smoke, potato steam-all right, that's not unhealthy."