In the spring of 1885, Van Gogh is fascinated by the effects of light and backlighting. Woman with a broom is the result of his study into painting by artificial light, when the flickering glow of a candle or lamp creates special lighting effects. The woman dressed in blue sweeps the floor of her home accompanied by her shadow.
Working in dim lamplight is a painterly challenge. It is sometimes so dark in the cottage that Van Gogh can barely distinguish the colours on his palette. Which colours produce the right effect? How do the light-dark contrasts remain in balance? Unsurprisingly, he finds painting ‘darkness that is still colour’ extremely difficult.
Women of the people
When choosing his models, Van Gogh prefers women of the people. In regard to more elegant women, he doesn’t think he has much chance of ‘getting on a sufficiently intimate footing with girls of that sort that they’re willing to pose’, but he is ‘possibly also prejudiced against women who wear dresses. And my province is more those who wear jackets and skirts’.