Obelisk Art History

Sorrow

Vincent Van Gogh, 1882
Sorrow, Vincent Van Gogh
Sorrow, zoomed in
44.4 cmSorrow scale comparison26.9 cm
See Sorrow in the Kaleidoscope

Sorrow (La douleur) is a Post-Impressionist Chalk Drawing created by Vincent Van Gogh in 1882. It lives at the The New Art Gallery Walsall in England. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged The Nude in Art, Women and Poverty. Download

Vincent Van Gogh was a late bloomer, only beginning to seriously pursue art at age 29, at the prompting of his brother Theo. In Sorrow, we see the progress that Van Gogh had made after two years of serious study. Always lacking in money, Van Gogh often drew and painted his neighbors or people he hired off the street to model, but Sorrow is a portrait of his mistress, the pregnant, homeless prostitute Clasina Maria Hoornik, who went by the name Sien.

When Van Gogh met Sien, she was sick, weak from postoperative complications and venereal disease. Van Gogh moved Sien and her daughter into his home, where he drew and painted her, and attempted to nurse her back to health. Sien was a tragic muse for Van Gogh. They shared a penchant for depression and alcoholism, and their relationship struck a permanent rift between Van Gogh and many of his family and friends.

Sorrow is a poignant work, simple in execution but representative of the exhaustion of the working poor. Across the bottom of the drawing is inscribed a quote from the social historian Jules Michelet, reading Comment se fait-il qu'il y ait sur la terre une femme seule, délaissée?—"How can there be on earth a woman alone, abandoned?” Van Gogh considered Sorrow to be one of his most effective portraits, about the work he said, “I want to make drawings that touch some people. Sorrow is a small beginning ... there is at least something directly from my own heart.”

Reed Enger, "Sorrow," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 10, 2015; last modified November 08, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/vincent-van-gogh/sorrow/.

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Recommended Reading

Few artists bared their souls like Van Gogh. In his letters to his brother Theo, his friend Gauguin, and many other artists and patrons, we experience first-hand the tortured optimism of a humble genius.

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