Life and work in Nuenen

Arrival in Nuenen

Vincent van Gogh, then 30 years old, arrived in Nuenen on 5 December 1883, travelling by train from Nieuw-Amsterdam in the province of Drenthe to the former railway station in Nuenen. He stayed with his parents in the rectory. Vincent did not feel at all welcome. In letter 413 written on 15 December 1883 he wrote: “There’s a similar reluctance about taking me into the house as there would be about having a large, shaggy dog in the house. He’ll come into the room with wet paws — and then, he’s so shaggy. He’ll get in everyone’s way. And he barks so loudlyIn short — it’s a dirty animal."

A studio in the rectory washhouse

Father Theodorus van Gogh set up a small studio for Vincent in the washhouse at the back of the rectory. Vincent didn’t work here for long because by May 1884 the many arguments he had with his father caused him to look for another place to work.
He found a new studio at the home of Johannes Schafrat  who was the verger at the catholic Clemenskerk church in Nuenen. The verger’s house stood on the left of the church but was demolished in 1936. After the death of his father, Vincent went to live in the studio and it was here that he painted the Potato Eaters.

Peasant Life

Vincent chose to feature the hard living conditions of peasants and weavers in the paintings he made in Nuenen. The time he spent in Nuenen is one of the most important and productive periods of his life.
He produced a quarter of his entire oeuvre between December 1883 and November 1885. No fewer than 24 buildings and landscapes remind us of his time in Nuenen; 14 of which were painted or sketched by him. Several landscapes in the direct vicinity still exude the atmosphere of his time.

The Potato Eaters

Van Gogh hoped that a large work featuring several people would help prove himself to the outside world. Paintings of peasants having their daily meal were popular at that time. He practiced for months painting heads, and many studies preceded the Potato Eaters. He was satisfied with the result but his brother Theo and his artist friend Anthon van Rappard were very critical of his work. 

Leaving Nuenen

On 24 November 1885 Vincent left for Antwerp. Various paintings and drawings he left behind with his family were lost when his mother and sister Willemien moved to Breda early in 1886. Many paintings from his Nuenen period can be seen in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch. 

If you want to hear the full story about Vincent's life and how he worked towards his first masterpiece, visit the Van Gogh Village Museum, with several exhibits about it, and hands-on experiences. 

Van Gogh Village Museum
Zicht op Nuenen in de herfst, gekeken door een laan met bomen.