In late November 1881, Van Gogh leaves for The Hague to take some painting lessons from his cousin by marriage Anton Mauve. Until that time he had made only drawings. He writes to his brother Theo: ‘Well, Mauve immediately installed me in front of a still life consisting of a couple of old clogs and other objects, and so I could set to work’.
Still life with clogs is Van Gogh’s first painting. The composition is simple: the pair of clogs on the wooden table are half obscured by an earthenware pot. The green bottle on the left still contains a little liquid. On the table top, Van Gogh has scratched lines into the paint with a blunt object – probably the end of his brush – to indicate the edges of the planks.
Mauve is surprised by this first result: ‘I always thought you were a bloody bore, but now I see that this isn’t so’. This remark from his teacher gives Van Gogh ‘more satisfaction than a whole cartload of Jesuitical compliments would give me’. With painting, he believes that his artistic career has finally begun: ‘Because, Theo, my actual career begins with painting, don’t you think it’s all right to see it that way?’