During the first half of the year in 1884, Van Gogh spent a great deal of his time drawing and painting weavers in Brabant. Although Van Gogh is known for capturing the lives of peasants working in the fields, he was also very interested in doing studies of weavers working indoors. In a letter to his brother Theo from January 2, 1884, Van Gogh wrote the following,
“I for my part often prefer to be with people who do not even know the world, for instance the peasants, the weavers, etc., rather than being with those of the more civilized world. It’s lucky for me.
So since I have been here, for instance, I have been absorbed in the weavers.”
Many artists of the time were not interested in depicting the lives of laborers, and because of the dark rooms and small spaces surrounding weaving looms, Van Gogh noted that there weren’t many paintings or drawings of weavers. In the same letter he went on to describe this when writing,
“Those people are very hard to draw because one cannot take enough distance in those small rooms to draw the loom. I think that is the reason why so many drawings turn out failures. But I have found a room here where there are two looms, and where it can be done.
In Drenthe, Rappard painted a study of it which I like very much. It is very gloomy – they are but poor creatures, those weavers.”
In February of 1884, Van Gogh was still living at home in Nuenen and working steadily on painting weavers. On February 1, 1884, he wrote the following in a letter to his brother Theo,
“Since I have been here, not a day has passed, I think, when I have not been working from morning till night on the weavers or the peasants;”
The following month, Vincent was writing to Theo about the series of weavers that he had sent to his brother in the hopes that Theo would have found buyers for these works or would keep them himself as payment in return for money which Theo had sent Vincent.
“It would rather disappoint me if you sent these little weavers back to me. And if none of the people you know would care to take them, I should think that you might take them for yourself, as the beginning of a collection of pen-and-ink drawings of Brabant artisans.”
Van Gogh did not want his studies of weavers to be seen as mechanical drawings of the machinery itself, but more as a representation of the laborer and the effort and struggle with which he does his work.
“And – if you were to put my study beside the drawing of a mechanic who had designed a weaving loom – mine would express more strongly that the thing is made of oak grimed by sweaty hands; and looking at it (even if I had not included him in the drawing at all, or even if I did add his figure out of proportion), you could not help thinking occasionally of the workman, whereas absolutely nothing like it would occur to your mind when you looked at the model of a loom drawn by a mechanic. A sort of sigh or lament must issue from that contraption of sticks now and then.”
View a selction of Van Gogh’s weaver paintings below, and feel free to comment and share your thoughts.