Study for Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh, oil on canvas 1885, is a painted oil sketch of a family of Dutch peasants gathered around their dinner table in an humble cottage, eating potatoes and pouring coffee beneath an oil lamp. This compositional study for the finished Potato Eaters resolved the placement and expressions of multiple figures from years of studies of single figures and portraits drawn from life while living among the people of Nuenen in the artist’s native Holland. Painted in thick strokes of impasto oil paint with deliberately crude, emphatic drawing capturing the character and earthiness of the subjects, the painting makes broad use of dramatic chiaroscuro reminiscent of Rembrandt and areas of heavy earth colors such as dark brown and umber. The finished version of Potato Eaters was the seminal masterpiece of Van Gogh’s early Dutch period, before encountering the Impressionists in Paris.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890) was a Dutch painter of the Post-Impressionist movement known for bold, expressive drawing, swirling brushstrokes and bold, heightened colors. In early adulthood Van Gogh worked as an art dealer, teacher and pastor before taking up the full time study of drawing and painting in his late twenties. Influenced by Rembrandt, the 19th century Realists and Barbizon school, Van Gogh's early paintings featured studies of workers and peasants in somber earth tones. Moving to France in 1886, Van Gogh met with the startling innovations of the Impressionist painters and began to apply their approach to color and subject matter, which continued into the mature style for which the artist is most renowned. Van Gogh produced many hundreds of drawings and paintings including portraits, landscapes, still life and flower paintings, and numerous self-portraits that became a dominating influence on the modern art of the 20th century and made him one of the most popular artists of all time.