From 1883 to 1885, Vincent van Gogh lived and worked in Nuenenin southern Belgium in the Provence of Brabant. Some 440 weavers were employed in Nuenen when Van Gogh lived there. He became fascinated by these poverty stricken artisans and during 1883 and 1884 he spent time drawing and painting handweavers.
On Jan. 2, 1884 he wrote to his brother Theo, “I for my part often prefer to be with people who do not even know the world, for instance the peasants, the weavers, etc., rather than being with those of the more civilized world. It’s lucky for me. So since I have been here, for instance, I have been absorbed in the weavers.”
He went on, “[They] are very hard to draw because one cannot take enough distance in those small rooms to draw the loom. I think that is the reason why so many drawings turn out failures. But I have found a room here where there are two looms, and where it can be done.”
In April Vincent again wrote to Theo about the weavers series. “As regards the work, I’m doing a fairly large painting of a weaver — the loom straight on from the front — the little figure a dark little silhouette against the white wall. And at the same time also the one I started in the winter, a loom on which a piece of red cloth is being woven — there the loom is seen from the side.”
“I’ll have a lot more hard graft on those looms — but in reality the things are such almighty beautiful affairs — all that old oak against a greyish wall — that I certainly believe it’s right that they should be painted. We must make sure that we get them so that the colour and tone match with other Dutch paintings, though. I hope to start on two more of weavers soon, where the figure will appear very differently, that’s to say where the weaver isn’t sitting behind it but is arranging the threads for the cloth. I’ve seen them weaving by lamplight in the evening, which creates very Rembrandtesque effects. Nowadays they have a sort of hanging lamp — but I’ve just got a little lamp from a weaver like what they used to work by.”