MERE ET ENFANT
17 by 13 1/2in. 43.2 by 34.3cm
Oil on canvas pasteboard
Painted in Nuenen in March 1885.
H.P. Bremmer, The Hague
Mme J. van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam (circa 1939)
Kunstsalon Abels, Cologne
O'Hana Gallery, London (circa 1970)
J.P.L. Fine Arts, London
London, O'Hana Gallery, Summer Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1971, no. 92
Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York, From Botticelli to Matisse, Masterpieces of the Guccione Collection, 1994
After living in Drenthe from September to December 1883, Van Gogh moved to Nuenen near Eindhoven where he stayed until November 1885. The present work was painted in March 1885, shortly before The Potato Eaters, the masterpiece of the Nuenen period. Dedicated to the development of his skills as an artist, Van Gogh made an intense study of peasant life. After deciding late in 1884 to paint thirty heads in succession, he felt prepared to tackle the whole figure again. Since the weather was too severe to paint outdoors, he began to work from models indoors. Among the activities treated in the early months of 1885 were peasant women spooling thread, shelling beans, making pancakes and sewing.
The present work is unusual in its treatment of the relationship between mother and child, a theme not common in van Gogh's oeuvre. Painted in a limited range of earthen tones, redolent of the harsh life led by the peasants of Brabant, the mother and her son huddle together for comfort. Writing to Theo on March 1, 1885, Vincent wrote: ``Nowadays I paint not only while there is still daylight, but even at night by lamplight, in the cottages, when I can hardly distinguish anything on my palette, to capture if possible at least something of the peculiar effects of artificial light at night, for instance a large shadow cast on the wall'' (Letter 395)
In many of the canvases of this period, the figures are seen against the light but in the present work, as if to emphasize the maternal bond, Van Gogh eliminated all references to the outside world except for the chair on which they sit.