This charcoal drawing is from the earliest period in the dazzling story of Vincent van Gogh, who came to painting in these very years, following failed attempts to become a preacher, then an art dealer. Van Gogh’s tormented biography is known to all, as is his intense relationship with painting and his fundamental impact on the artistic expression of
subsequent generations. Less well-known are the years of his training. Raised in a very cultured family, Van Gogh was far from the image of the madman who paints by pure instinct that has often been ascribed to him. As we see here, even in the earliest stages of his artistic development, his approach to drawing in black and white is interesting and intelligent. Several of his letters reflect his thoughts on the matter, such as a passage from 1883 when he wrote, “black and white is a method that makes it possible to put on paper, relatively swiftly, effects that would otherwise lose something of what is called ‘spontaneity’”. Interested in the use of black chalk and charcoal, as in this case, and later more assiduously in graphite, Van Gogh often devoted himself to drawing, and considered it an important part of his artistic production. This half-length figure belongs to a series of portraits of pensioners, residents of a hospice in Den Haag, which he began in September of 1882.