Vincent van Gogh, the renowned Post-Impressionist painter, created a series of character studies during his time in Nuenen, where he lived temporarily with his parents. Among these works is “Head of a Man,” completed in December 1884-January 1885. This piece is part of Van Gogh’s broader effort to capture the essence of peasant life, a theme that deeply resonated with him and was influenced by the peasant genre work of artists like Jean-François Millet.
Van Gogh’s “Head of a Man” reflects his dedication to portraying the working class with authenticity and respect. He aimed to paint at least 50 different heads to practice capturing peasant types, a project he began in October 1884 following the advice of an artist friend. The identity of the man in this particular study remains unknown, as Van Gogh’s letters provide little information about his models. However, it is known that he found his subjects in Nuenen, a place where he had connections through his father, a town minister, and where people were more willing to pose for him compared to other locations like Drenthe.
The artwork is executed with pencil, pen, brush, and possibly coarse brush and ink on paper, measuring 14.8 cm x 10.4 cm. It is one of the last in the series of head studies and showcases Van Gogh’s interest in the lives and appearances of the peasants he admired. His approach to these character studies was foundational to his artistic development, as he sought to depict the reality of country life with honesty and directness.
“Head of a Man” is not just a portrait; it is a window into the world of the rural working class of the late 19th century, a subject that Van Gogh believed held great nobility and importance for modern art. Through this and other works, Van Gogh immortalized the faces and lives of those who toiled the land, capturing their spirit with his expressive and emotive style.