‘It’s dismal outdoors – the fields a marble of clods of black earth and some snow, usually a few days of fog and mud in between’, writes Van Gogh in the winter of 1885. He sees the bleakness of the dark winter days reflected in the gloomy houses and in the faces of the peasants and weavers, scarred by their harsh existence.
The canvas is smooth and thinly painted; only the highlighting brushstrokes are applied more thickly. This head of an elderly woman is rendered in light tones, which contrast sharply with the green tones of the hat and shawl. With bold, large brushstrokes, Van Gogh gives the furrowed face a visual power and expression.
A strange dark spot can be seen on the woman’s head. It cannot be a shadow as the light comes from the front and shines diagonally to the left. Perhaps Van Gogh initially painted a strand of hair and then (partially) removed it, upon reflection.