Van Gogh works with renewed energy in Auvers and also takes up portrait painting again. He wants to add a new, deeper dimension to this traditional genre. ‘I would like to do portraits which would look like apparitions to people a century later’, he writes to his sister Willemien.
By this, he means that he is not seeking a photographic resemblance, but wants to paint a ‘modern portrait’ in which the temperament of his model comes into its own. The selected means for this is colour. ‘and [I] am certainly not alone in seeking it in this way’.
The sitter for Portrait of a young woman is probably ‘a country girl’. It is one of three works that Van Gogh makes of her. He places her against a red background with green curved brushstrokes and uses a second colour contrast, blue and orange, for her clothing. Unfortunately, the red has discoloured to a drab red over time.