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Vincent Van Gogh Life and Times

“The Potato Eaters” by Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh was a renowned artist born in 1853 in Netherlands. He left a legacy of rich paintings that could be easily recognized and appreciated across generations. Since his father was a clergy, he grew up in a religious household. He learned how to trade with art dealers from his uncle.

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He also studied theology while he was still in his homeland. He later worked as a minister of the gospel in spite of the challenges. It was the same time when he gradually began to develop interest in the art of painting. This essay argues that the popularity and generational acceptance of the Potato Eaters were largely influenced by the primitive appearance of the piece of art.

One of the most profound pieces of art produced by Vincent Van Gogh was known as the Potato Eaters. This was his first artwork. He created it in 1885 at a time when he was still a novice in the field of professional painting. As a matter of fact, he had minimal painting skills when he created this first piece of art. Nonetheless, the response from art lovers was amazing. The piece was indeed interesting from the external look. In addition, the overall feeling generated from the Potato Eaters was fascinating.

His main aim when producing the first piece of painting was to create a lasting impression to the audience so that it would be easy to promote his subsequent pieces of art. He painted human figures that appeared to be real.

The figures had a dark background bearing in mind that the room was also poorly lit. In order to create the intended impression, some dim source of light can be seen emanating from a lamp positioned on the wall. There is a square table with five people sited around it. In fact, the five individuals are shown eating potatoes together.

Out of the five people, only one is male while the remaining four are females. The faces of the five people eating potatoes reveal mixed emotions. According to van Tilborgh (2009), the audience can visualize their faces and associated emotions in spite of the dim light originating from the oil lamp. In addition, the intense nature of the occupants sitting around the table can be felt by the audience.

It appears as if the audience can surely ‘hear’ the conversation that is going on among the potato eaters. The fine details of the painting can be examined and questioned by the audience owing to the vibrancy of the layered pieces in spite of the prevailing darkness. Some of the fine details that can be seen in thePotato Eaters” painting are described below.

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First, the back of the painted piece contains rafter boards. A window can be seen in the background darkness. This has been represented using lines that generally appear soft and gentle. The potatoes are contained in a large platter perhaps to satisfy the five occupants.

Their fingers appear bony even as they stretch them to reach out for the potatoes. In addition, a woman who is sitting towards the right side of the table is serving a drink that looks like coffee. There is also a large rectangular column positioned at the rear end of the square table. The column is apparently acting as a pillar that supports the structure. The table is evidently old bearing in mind that its edges appear rugged and weathered.

The subtle aspects described above are a clear indication that the five people are the occupants of the house and are most likely using it as their place of residence. The artist did not create or develop this piece of painting in a hurry. He had planned for it in advance. His initial plan was to paint several pieces of art that could date as early as 1883. In fact, he had a sketch of this painting long before developing it. Several sketches and trials of the same painting enabled him to eventually come up with the final product.

The reversed lithograph prints of the Potato Eaters attempts to highlight with aspect of unity during strife with little success. The artist should have added more serene effects that depict peace and stability amidst social struggles.

The form of Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters indeed illustrates a type of art with an intentional selection of composition which is cumbersome to prove. The painting illuminates the notion that the five people have toiled on earth for a long time to earn a living. It is crucial to underscore the fact that Potato Eaters emphasizes the cruel reality of difficult lifestyle of these peasants. As can be seen, the five figures are crowded in a small cottage which is dimly lit.

Even though the impression of struggle to survive is evident in this piece of art, Van Gogh should have employed more constricting and dark colors. The greens and browns used in the painting tend to limit the artist’s palette and slightly minimize the intended mental image. This implies that the author should have intensified the effects by at least adding some highlights in the painting. Nonetheless, it is still possible to appreciate the hidden composition and form of the Potato Eaters in spite of the missing effects (Jones, 2003).

On the other hand, the audience can vividly notice the rough hands and coarse faces that have faced difficult times. The bony fingers that are equally large alongside other scrawny features appeal even more to the reality facing these five people.

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As much as the piece of art may be dismissed by some critics as a primitive composition, it is the same imperfections visualized in the painting that make it stand out among others.

Theory of naturalism and the “Potato Eaters”

When a natural setting is used to depict realistic objects, it advocates for the theory of naturalism. From thePotato Eaters” piece of art, objects, places and people have been represented in the most natural manner. This naturalistic representation deviates from intentional idealization or stylization of the aspects described above. Hence, details have been depicted accurately and in the most attentive manner. Hence, it can be argued that objects, places, and people have been represented in a factual, accurate and consistent style.

For example, all the five faces depict emotions that the audience can easily identify. The table, cups, potatoes and other objects around the five people represent the everyday organic life. Besides, the casual lives of the five individuals who are peasants have been depicted in a natural and realistic manner.

The portrayal of body parts have not been exaggerated at all. It is equally interesting to learn that both two and three-dimensional forms can be seen in the piece of painting. These elements add the much-needed naturalistic feeling required in such piece of art (Crispino, 2008).

Realism and factual presentation of facts have also been portrayed through the choice of colors. The hands and faces of the occupants of this building have been represented using earthly colors. This type of coloration tends to depict the fact these peasants have gone through difficult times of toiling to make life better. A sense of struggle is also evident in the colors used to paint the piece of art.

Historical significance

The Potato Eaters came at a time when there was social exclusion and separation between the rich and poor in society. People who eat potatoes are likely to be feeding on an incomplete diet. The latter may have possibly been contributed by abject poverty.

While in Holland, Van Gogh lived a marginal life. This is the same kind of lifestyle demonstrated in this painting. It can also be recalled that he did not go through the education system successful and even after securing some job as an art dealer; his life was still full of struggles. He was eventually compelled by the hard circumstances in life to learn the art of drawing and painting.

Surprisingly, he did the latter by himself. He had no teacher to guide him through the learning process. These are clear indications that the historical times were difficult in the life of many people (Crispino, 2008).

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Although the Potato Eaters may have been presented in form of a bourgeois piece of art, the seemingly barbaric images are indeed in line with the reality of society when Van Gogh was painting the art.


Crispino, E. (2008). Van Gogh. New York: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Jones, J. (2003). The Potato Eaters, Vincent Van Gogh (1885). Web.

Van Tilborgh, L. (2009). The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh. Web.

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