Not naturally gifted
Vincent van Gogh is already 27 when he decides to become an artist. He knows that he is not naturally gifted. He writes to his brother Theo: ‘For me it’s a matter of learning to draw well, to be master either of my pencil or my charcoal or my brush’. With the help of various textbooks he concentrates on drawing, which he regards as the basis of everything.
After a fierce disagreement with his father, in late 1881 Van Gogh leaves for The Hague, where he hopes to further develop his skills as an artist. He makes his first paintings there, but mainly practices drawing cityscapes, people in the streets, old men and women, and Sien, who lives with him at that time.
In this drawing, Sien sits on the floor of the studio near the stove. She smokes a cigar and appears lost in thought. Her white undergarments form a strong contrast with the darker floor and wall of the studio, which Van Gogh renders sketchily in hard strokes with his black carpenter’s pencil.