Vincent’s parents and youngest siblings, Cor and Willemien, moved to Etten, Netherlands in the fall of 1875 when he and Theo were working for the Goupil Art Trade Company. The family lived in the church rectory near the center of town. Van Gogh spent time with them there during the Christmas holiday in 1876 and again in 1878 in order to save money.
Van Gogh had not succeeded as an art dealer or as a teacher and preacher. However, during his time in the mining village of Wasmes, Belgium the young preacher began studying and drawing the mining families. Van Gogh had moved to Brussels to study art in a more academic setting; however, Brussels was an expensive place to be, so in April 1881, during an economic downturn in the municipality, Van Gogh moved to Etten for a brief period and lived with his family.
During his brief stay in Etten, Van Gogh continued drawing and often used his neighbors as his models. The landscape surrounding Etten inspired the new artist. Drawings produced during this period include local peasants and laborers performing everyday tasks.
In May of 1881, Van Gogh wrote his brother, Theo, saying,
“Every day that it does not rain, I go out in the fields, generally to the heath. I make my studies on a rather large scale, like the few you saw at the time of your visit; so I have done, among other things, a cottage on the heath, and also that barn with a thatched roof on the road to Roozendaal, which locally they call the Protestant barn.
You will perhaps remember what I mean.
Then the mill right opposite it, in the meadow, and the elm trees in the churchyard.
And another of woodcutters, busy on a wide patch of ground where a large pine tree has been cut down. I also try to draw the implements, such as a wagon, plough, harrow, wheelbarrow, etc., etc.
The one with the woodcutters turned out best of all, and I think you would like it.”
Following an argument with his father in December of 1881, Van Gogh left his parents’ house in Etten for The Hague to begin more serious artistic studies.