Vincent van Gogh’s Le Chaumiére et une Paysanne Sous les Arbre is one of twelve oils in a group of paintings that depicts peasant cottages or more modest hovels with their characteristic thatched roofs. All were painted sur le motif from late May to early July 1885 on the sparsely populated heath near the small Dutch village of Neunen. Vincent had arrived here December 5 1883, initially taking refuge at his parent’s home from the debt and despair he had incurred at Drenthe. Despite declaring that “father and I are irreconcilable to the depths of our souls,” he stayed two years, and for an artist intent upon working at his usual frenetic pace produced an impressive 195 paintings, 313 drawings and 25 watercolors. Despite Theo’s encouragement to add more color, Vincent was convinced “that a painter of peasant life can do no better than follow the example of the Barbizon – dwelling and living right in the midst of what one is painting.” He revered Millet, worshiped Rembrandt, had deep fondness for Corot, Daubigny, Dupré, and had come under the influence of Anton Mauve and the Hague School known for their ‘warm, fragrant grays’. He had yet to see an Impressionist painting and could not conceptualize it. To Theo he mused that, “from what you said about ‘Impressionism’, I’ve grasped that it’s something different from what I thought it was, but it’s still not entirely clear to me what one should understand by it. But for my part, I find so tremendously much in Israëls, for instance, that I’m not particularly curious about or eager for something different or newer.”
Obsessively, Vincent maintained that only a darker palette could express the meager existence of the peasants and that only an artist who lived and suffered among them could understand their plight. It was in the spirt of that plight he painted The Potato Eaters, the centerpiece about which all other work of the Neunen period are supporting compliments. The crowning achievement of the first half of van Gogh’s brief, albeit brilliant career as a painter, he fought to keep the dark colors as dark as possible, tinted the varnish with bitumen to darken it still more and fussed with the painting for a month, revising it ad nauseum. Otherwise, 1884 and 1885 was either preparing to paint this magnum opus — evident in the countless ‘head’ and figure studies using the implements most comfortable for him; the pen and pencil — or the trailing work such as these thatched roofed cottages that Vincent took up the first time when he stepped outside the home of the De Groot family, immortalized in The Potato Eaters and painted the home they shared with another family and staged it against the waning evening light. Not surprisingly, Vincent saw these dwellings in relation to the people living in them and perhaps, as mementos of spending nights and sharing meals with several of the families. With light-heartedness, he shared with Theo palaver that, “one of them is the residence of a gentleman who’s popularly known here as “the peasant of Rauwveld” — the other occupied by a worthy soul who, when I went there, was engaged in nothing more mysterious than turning over her potato patch, but must also be able to work magic, though as she goes by the name of ‘the witches head’.
Pictures such as Le Chaumiére et une Paysanne Sous les Arbre were actually painted at the tipping point of Vincent’s stubborn inertia about adding heightened color to his palette. He had read about Delacroix’s ideas on color in Charles Blac’s Grammaire des arts du dessin and had subsumed an understanding of primary and complementary colors and their effects against one another. As he told Theo, while “last year I was often desperate about color, but now I’m working much confidently.” Le Chaumiére et une Paysanne Sous les Arbre show little hints perhaps in the taches of color indicating flowering plants in foreground and overall, it is a particularly attractive painting, picturesque perhaps at the expense of Vincent’s treasured sense of realism, but one that has a painterly quality displaying elegance in handling, a quality not as evident, or completely lacking in the other works. It hints of the Barbizon aesthetic Vincent admired, the formal shape of the cottage is truncated, the trees placed for compositional effect, its format squarish and slightly vertical. Still, there are the unmistakable brushed traceries that reveal his haltingly energetic passages of jagged and angular brushstrokes. Though this cannot be known for certain, it may be among the first group of pictures ever shown in a public setting and for sale. It was at the paint shop of his most relentless creditor, and though it would have been shameful for any other painter to find his work relegated to dressing for Leur’s windows, Vincent turned it into a coup of sorts. “The man I now have in The Hague is Leurs who doesn’t live in Praktizijnshoek anymore but in Molenstraat. He is asking me to send him more than one painting in order to have more than one chance and is offering me his two windows. And since he’s very hard pressed for money himself, he won’t shrink from making an effort. I’m sending him a couple of cottages, the old tower, and smaller ones of figures.”
Of the other paintings shown at Leur’s, Van Gogh specialist Martin Bailey has suggested, Paysanne devant une chaumière (Peasant Woman in front of a Thatched Cottage) as an almost certain candidate. He traced its provenance to a Brit, John Holme (1871-1952) who in 1929 accepted the painting in lieu of debt. The debtor, also an Englander, remains unknown. That the painting may have been purchased from Leur by an Englishman is not surprising given Vincent’s hopeful comment that, “I’ve heard from that colourman (and) he wants me to send (the pictures) as soon as possible because there are many strangers in the The Hague at present.” Perhaps, the first sale of a Van Gogh painting by a retail vendor was a cottage painting! Yet Paysanne devant une chaumière’s notoriety does not end here in a cloud of speculation. Recently, the painting sold for a reported $13.5 million at TEFAF Maastricht in February 2020. Big news indeed for a pre-Paris Van Gogh. In an expanded context, it is a justified, monetary acknowledgment of the relative importance of this attractive and varied group of thatched roof cottages. For Vincent, he had a highly personal if not sentimental attachment to these relics. He thought of them as having the character of a ‘wren’s nest’ and they made him ‘think of a couple of old, worn people who have become one single being and are seen supporting one another.’
Vincent van Gogh, “The Cottage” (1885), The Van Gogh Museum (Home to two families including the de Groots who were the subjects of The Potato Eaters)
Vincent van Gogh, “Farmhouse in Neunen, La Chaumière” (1885)
Vincent van Gogh, “Paysanne devant une chaumière” (1885)
David Norsworthy, general manager of The Burlington Magazine, taking the newly authenticated Van Gogh to Agnew’s, Bond St, London, March 1969 © Keystone Pictures USA, courtesy of Simon Dickinson, London
- The graph prepared by Art Market Research shows that since 1976, paintings by Vincent van Gogh have increased at an 8.9% rate of return.
- Demand for original and unique artworks by Vincent van Gogh is high. Combined with a limited and dwindling supply, works by Van Gogh have increased in value over time. This is particularly true for museum-quality artworks.
- This painting was once part of the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Top Van Gogh Paintings Sold at Auction
Comparable Paintings Sold at Auction
- The present work was painted just one year after La Chaumière et une Paysanne Sous les Arbres.
- It uses a similarly dark, earthy color palette and depicts a landscape with figures.
- It is also an oil on canvas, and is slightly smaller than the painting available for sale.
- This painting was completed in 1882, a few years prior to La Chaumière et une Paysanne Sous les Arbres.
- Like the painting available for sale, it is a landscape scene rendered in somber colors.
- This work depicts a landscape, painted two years after the painting for sale.
- It is an oil on canvas, similar in size to La Chaumière et une Paysanne Sous les Arbres.
- The present work has a similar dark palette and size as La Chaumière et une Paysanne Sous les Arbres.
- It was painted just one year after the work available for sale.