It was an expensive suggestion.
Vincent loved the idea, Theo paid for it.
From that moment on Theo financially supported his older brother.
First Vincent spent five years learning his craft in the Netherlands, while Theo moved to Goupil’s office in Paris.
Vincent then took some fine art lessons (at Theo’s expense), but to all intents and purposes he remained largely self-taught.
Gradually he began to find his voice as an artist. By the mid-1880s he had painted what is now considered to be his first great work, but back then it aroused not a flicker of interest.
The Potato Eaters (1885) was an ambitious effort for a rookie artist. A five-person composition, set around a table in a small room, lit only by an underpowered oil lamp, would be a compositional challenge for any student.
But Van Gogh wanted to raise the bar. At this stage he wanted to be a painter of ‘peasant life’ – a social documenter like the writer Charles Dickens.
His peasants would not be sentimentalized, but naturalistic; the allusion to their humble life and meagre diet would be made subtly through Van Gogh’s colour palette and treatment of the figures.
The result is a painting of sombre browns and greys and blues, with peasants whose hands are the colour of earth, and fingers as rough as the potatoes they are eating.
There are few straight lines in an image evoking a poor family that is exhausted but not yet beaten.
He sent it to Theo. Theo sent him a letter. ‘Why don’t you come to Paris?’ he asked.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.