National Gallery Receives HEAD OF A PEASANT WOMAN, by Vincent Van Gogh, Under the Cultural Gifts Scheme

An early Vincent Van Gogh painting has been donated to the National Gallery under the Cultural Gifts Scheme introduced by the UK Government earlier this year.

Head of a Peasant Woman is the first early work by the artist to enter the National Gallery collection. It is also the only one painted in his native Holland and, most importantly, the first figure painting - the six other Van Gogh works in the collection (four owned by the Gallery and two long terms loans) are landscapes and still lifes.

Head of a Peasant Woman is one of the most appealing of Van Gogh's series of around 40 portraits of the peasants of Nuenen. He painted them in late 1884 / early 1885 when he had settled in the village, which is in North Brabant in the Netherlands, where his father was a minister. The series of paintings that he executed that winter, as he established himself as a painter of working people, is arguably the first sustained artistic achievement of Van Gogh's mature artistic career.

Head of a Peasant Woman holds a special place among the Nuenen portraits. Unlike most of the others in the series, Van Gogh represents here much more than just a peasant 'type.' The young sitter is painted with a sympathy and freshness to present an attractive, vivid personality. This portrait was amongst the very few works acquired early on from the Van Gogh family, probably soon after the artist's death - indicating that its appeal was quickly recognised.

Whilst the Paris and Arles periods of Van Gogh's career are well known, the importance of the Nuenen peasant portraits as a breakthrough in his artistic development is also widely recognised by scholars and critics, whilst the public has long responded to Van Gogh's evident sympathy for his sitters. The recent publication of the artist's letters demonstrates the social, moral and aesthetic significance of Van Gogh's early years as an artist in the Low Countries - it was there that the great themes of his art were first elaborated.

National Gallery Director, Dr Nicholas Penny, said "Before this acquisition, the National Gallery gave the public no idea of Van Gogh's early work and had no painting which showed his extraordinary sympathy for the common people - who were never in his mind common at all."

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by Barry Kostrinsky