Lot 50
  • 50

Vincent van Gogh

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Vincent van Gogh
  • The Laundress
  • Watercolor on paper laid down on paper
  • 10 1/2 by 16 1/8 in.
  • 26.7 by 41 cm


(probably) Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus, Nuenen/Breda (mother of the artist)

Janus Schrauwen, Breda (acquired from the above in 1888)

Jan C. Couvreur, Breda (acquired from the above on August 14, 1902)

Kees Mouwen Jr. & Willem van Bakel, Breda (acquired from the above in 1902-03)

Sale: Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, May 3, 1904, lot 32

Sale: Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, May 12, 1908 lot 140

F. Hennus, Amsterdam

Cornelis Herman Guépin, Santpoort

Sale: Amsterdam, December 15, 1964, lot 36 (Brandt)

Sale: Klipstein & Kornfeld, Bern, June 13, 1968, lot 398

E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam

Emile E. Wolf, New York (acquired from the above on July 11, 1969)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Jacob Baart de la Faille, L'Oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh, Catalogue Raisonné, Dessins, Aquarelles, Lithographies, Paris, 1928, vol. III, no. 1087, catalogued p. 59; vol. IV, no. 1087, illustrated pl. LXV (titled Femme ramassant du linge)

Walther Vanbeselaere, De hollandsche periode in het werk van Vincent van Gogh, 1937, illustrated pp. 103, 205 & 410

Jacob Baart de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh, His Paintings and Drawings, London, 1970, no. F. 1087, illustrated p. 395

Jacob Baart de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Works on PaperCatalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1992, vol. I, no. 1087, catalogued p. 278; vol. II, illustrated pl. LXV

Jan Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 1996, no. 200, illustrated p. 54 (titled Woman Spreading Out Laundry on a Field)

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1882, The Laundress dates from the important formative period of Van Gogh’s career when he began to develop many of the key themes that would occupy him throughout his life. Inspired by the life and work of the French painter Jean-François Millet – he read Alfred Sensier’s La vie et l’œuvre de Jean-François Millet in 1881 – and by his own earlier experiences as a missionary and preacher, he turned increasingly to subjects from the rural, peasant life he saw around him. In The Laundress he depicts a woman in the act of spreading out or gathering in cloth laid out in the sun on bleaching fields – a common sight in this part of the Netherlands. Her bent back and the bleak simplicity of her surroundings clearly allude to similar works by Millet and reveal a parallel interest in depicting the common man at work. This motif, of a woman bending to her toil, appeared again in later works in which Van Gogh returned again to exploring themes inspired by Millet, often using earlier drawings and watercolors as source material.

However, as his letters of the period attest, during these years Van Gogh was also exploring a wider range of influences inspired in part by the landscape surrounding him. Writing to fellow-painter Anthon van Rappard in May 1882 he described one such influence: “I do so hope that we’ll be able to go on some more walks here in the neighborhood when the opportunity arises. Because you would certainly find plenty of material in the fish-drying barns in Scheveningen, for example. They’re splendidly Ruisdael-like (I mean like that painting, The bleaching grounds at Overveen)” (quoted in L. Jansen, H. Luijten & N. Bakker, Vincent van Gogh, The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, Volume 2: The Hague, 1881-1883, London, 2009, p. 80). He was equally drawn to the literary example of Charles Dickens, commenting on the ‘plastic’ qualities of his descriptive prose. In an interesting parallel, Dickens, who traveled along this stretch of the Northern European coast in the early 1860s, wrote expressively of the “bleaching-grounds, rising out of the sluiced fields in an abrupt bare way, disdaining… to be ornamental or accommodating” (C. Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller, London, 1911 (originally 1866), p. 316).

Whilst there is nothing ornamental in this treatment of the subject, The Laundress nonetheless has a poetic eloquence. Van Gogh had begun working in watercolor in 1881, encouraged by his relationship with the Dutch painter Anton Mauve who was a cousin of his through marriage and a mentor to the younger artist. In a letter to his brother from the same year he described the liberating effect of exploring this new medium: “What a splendid thing water color is to express atmosphere and distance, so that the figure is surrounded by air and can breathe in it, as it were” (The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1959, no. 163, p. 280). He uses it to great effect in the present work, building a remarkable sense of depth and placing the bent figure of the woman in sharp relief against the shadowy trees of the background. Whilst in many of the works of this period Van Gogh adopted the earthy palette that Millet had favored, in the present work he embraces a more descriptive coloration; vivid pinks and purples can be glimpsed in the sky between the trees and this pale, wintry sunlight is reflected in the warm whites of the laundry laid out on the fields. Contrasting this color against the dark silhouettes of the bare-limbed trees and the muted greens of the grass, Van Gogh achieves an imaginative and powerfully evocative treatment of the subject.