GOGH, Vincent van
(b. 1853, Groot Zundert, d. 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)

Reaper from Behind

August 1885, Nuenen
Black chalk and ink on yellowish woven paper, 471 x 362 mm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Catalogue numbers: F 1312, JH 854.

During the summer of 1885 van Gogh decided to prepare a multi-figure genre scene by chalk drawings depicting peasants working on the fields. Due to the negative criticism of his The Potato Eaters, he abandoned the stiffness and flatness of his figures and he took more care in modelling. In this period he executed about fifty large-scale chalk drawings that depict working peasants on the field. The lonely peasants who are portrayed concentrate on their tasks, digging, planting, bundling into sheaves or gathering the fallen wheat. With this series of drawings van Gogh wished to follow in the footsteps of those who influenced him, first and foremost Jean-François Millet.

The majority of the drawings known today are large-scale figure studies, most of them depict full-length peasants or peasant women at field work, very often shown from the back or the side. Van Gogh was primarily concerned with the artistic problem of drawing the turning, bending body, as well as grasping the ceaseless rhythm of labour. The present reaper is a typical piece of the series. Van Gogh made drawings of at least a dozen reapers similar to the one in Amsterdam, always depicting a different movement phase.