In October 1884, Van Gogh and his friend Anthon van Rappard go on some excursions in the Nuenen area. As he writes to his brother Theo, they have ‘visited people house by house’ and ‘discovered new models’. This gives him the idea to paint studies of heads throughout the winter.
Van Gogh strives to become proficient in painting figures. In this study he is clearly still struggling with composition. The man looks obliquely to the right: his eyes are at different heights. The knot in the handkerchief around his neck is rendered in an awkward perspective, and his pipe hangs at such an angle that the tobacco would fall out. His left shoulder is also rather low in the corner.
The green-grey background contrasts with the red of the handkerchief and the red on his cheek. On the right, Van Gogh has made the background lighter, so that the head stands out more. Nevertheless, the suggestion of depth is not convincing and the face remains rather flat.