These expressive portraits of local people, often imbued with an exaggerated sense of isolation, reflect Van Gogh’s own personal sense of solitude during this time. His letters reveal his anguished mental state and he wrote often to implore his brother to visit. Old man praying reflects this loneliness: the heavy, stoical posture of this subject—which is undoubtedly one of the most psychologically affecting of this series—reflects the melancholy of individual human struggle. The thick application of ink and charcoal in broad, deliberate strokes perfectly expresses the hardship of this man’s daily life. These works were a projection of the artist's own internal struggles, a way for him to express his nervous introversion and solitude. According to Jan Hulsker, Van Gogh's intense focus on the studies of these subjects' heads and hands furthermore marks a key transition for the artist. He writes: 'In most of the portraits mentioned here the characterization of the heads is very well done, but what is most noteworthy is that he did things entirely his own way. He was not trying to achieve a romantic idealization of the subjects, but to render them forcefully and realistically, a striving that in a few months would culminate in his famous painting of the Potato Eaters' (J. Hulsker, op. cit., pp. 142 & 144).
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