The Patato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh

The Patato Eaters can be considered one of Van Gogh's early masterpieces, and was certainly a work that the painter himself was pleased with. In this respect it was one of the first paintings that he truly felt confident about, and when his friend Rappard criticized a lithograph of it, it led to the disintegration of their relationship. Van Gogh wanted to show the essence of peasant life, writing to his brother Theo, 'I have tried to emphasize that these people, eating their potatoes in the lamplight, have dug the earth with those same hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labour and of how they have honestly earned their food.'

Rather than pointing from life, as was his practice, he created the composition through individual studies of peasants. The figures are unerringly ugly, becoming almost like caricatures in the artist's effort to establish the very nature of the peasant, with whom he wanted to identify. There is the sense, though, that he has not captured the peasant, but in his efforts to do so instead created a parody of their life.