In the studies of heads that Van Gogh paints of peasants and weavers in Nuenen, he pays a lot of attention to the rendering of light and dark. He finds it ‘an eternally difficult question’, but is also convinced that the artistic value of a work ‘depends to a very considerable extent on the treatment of the shaded passages’.
In this Head of a woman, the expressiveness of the face is secondary to the backlight effect. The emphasis is on the shape of her head, which stands out sharply against the background. The light green-blue tints of the background transition into the darker section to the left of the woman’s shoulder. This sketchy transition from light to dark indicates that Van Gogh is studying chiaroscuro.
His interaction with models is not without problems. Rumour has it that he got a model pregnant, ‘although it wasn’t me’. The priest and other gentlemen of the village ‘can’t get their teeth into me, at least not this time. But you see that it isn’t easy to paint people at home and draw them as they go about their business’.