Vincent van Gogh: The Weaving in Nuenen and the Echo of Craftsmanship

Weaving Threads of Genius: Vincent van Gogh and the Art of Craftsmanship in 19th-Century Nuenen

In examining the artistic output of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), contemporary observers are often drawn to the radiant luminosity of his colors, the inner light that pervades his landscapes, and the pathos of his troubled life. His artistic work has, through many phases of critical history, been shrouded in a veil of misunderstanding that has left less-celebrated aspects of his genius in the shadows.

However, a more penetrating and sensitive examination of his work can unveil a world of interests and affections that go beyond mere visual representation. Beyond his famous nonconformist vision and burning desire for freedom, Van Gogh was deeply enamored with human labor, a love born from a sincere sympathy for the common man.

Between December 1883 and August 1884, van Gogh spent significant time in the village of Nuenen, located in the Brabant region of the Netherlands. A village of just over two thousand souls, Nuenen featured a socio-economic fabric still tied to domestic textile production, despite the looming advance of industrial manufacturing.

Home weaving was a practice that, in that historical context, was on the verge of extinction, supplanted by the efficiency of mass production, which, while often offering inferior quality, came at a considerably more competitive cost.

Van Gogh was immediately attracted to this humble and domestic form of labor, often supplementary and relegated to the winter months. His fascination seemed to be anchored not just in the aesthetic but also in the emotional and psychological aspects. The calm, the repetitive motions, the almost hypnotic rhythm that pervaded the room, created an atmosphere of refuge, a meditative zone that profoundly fascinated him.

The subject of weavers was uncommon in the painting of the time, and this was one of the aspects that drew him in. Unlike paintings of manual labor in fields or shops, representing weavers presented unique challenges. As Van Gogh himself noted in letters to his brother Theo, there were difficulties in depicting the large looms confined to tight spaces, as well as the mechanical complexity of the looms themselves.

The resulting works, executed in a variety of techniques including pencil, watercolor, ink pen, oil colors, and on diverse supports like canvas, laid paper, vellum or fabric paper, offer a fascinating and penetrating view of a world on the brink of extinction.

This series of Van Gogh paintings on textile craftsmanship is a hidden treasure in his artistic corpus, highlighting not just his technical mastery but also the depth of his empathy and interest in the human condition. It represents a valuable segment of his oeuvre and deserves deeper consideration by scholars and art lovers alike.

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I’ll conclude by quoting a letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo:

  • “Dear Theo, Best wishes for your birthday. I am already eagerly awaiting your next letter. As for work, I am working on a large painting of a weaver with the loom viewed from the front – the small figure stands out dark against the white wall. At the same time, I am continuing another one, which I began last winter – a loom on which a red cloth is being woven; in this one the loom is seen in perspective. …These looms will still cost me a lot of hard work, but in reality, they are such splendid things, all that oak wood against the grayish wall, that I think it is undoubtedly a good thing that they are painted once in a while. They must be rendered, however, in a way that the color and tone harmonize with other Dutch paintings… I have seen them weaving in the evening by the lamplight, which creates effects that strongly remind me of Rembrandt. Today they use a kind of hanging lamp, but from one of the weavers, I got a small lamp like the one in, for example, Millet’s ‘The Vigil.’ They used to work with these. The other day I saw colorful fabrics, woven in the evening; I will take you to see the weavers when you come here. When I saw them, they were setting up the warp, so that I saw the dark, curved figures standing out against the light and color of the fabric, the large shadows of the bars and beams of the loom on the white walls. Goodbye, write to me soon if you can.
    Sincerely yours, Vincent”

Marco Mattiuzzi 
Gruppo Facebook “Pillole d’Arte”

By Marco Mattiuzzi

A multifaceted artist, former teacher and communicator, he has dedicated years to art and communication. He taught classical guitar, exhibited photos and wrote in magazines. In the book sector, he promoted photography and art through HF Distribuzione, a company specialized in mail-order sales. He currently owns CYBERSPAZIO WEB & STREAMING HOSTING. In 2018, he created the Facebook group "Art Pills" with over 65,000 members and manages CYBERSPAZIO WEB RADIO dedicated to classical music. He collaborates with several cultural organizations in Vercelli, including Amici dei Musei and Artes Liberales.
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