"The potato eaters' shows a peasant family partaking of their evening meal by the scanty light of an oil lamp. The painting is built up of wide, coarse brushstrokes. While paying little attention to detail, Van Gogh emphasises the light-dark effects all the more. The outer surrounding area of the painting, which is built up of darker tints, contrasts sharply with the areas lit by the oil lamp, the only light source in the work.
Vincent van Gogh began painting peasant scenes during his three-month stay in Drenthe in 1883. After that he moved in with his parents in Nuenen in Brabant, where he produced more than a hundred portrait studies of local farm labourers. These studies were the prelude to a large painting dealing with the life of Brabant peasants: 'The potato eaters'. In early April 1885 he wrote to Theo of his plans 'to start this week on the business of those peasants sitting round the dish of potatoes in the evening'.
'The potato eaters' is undoubtedly the most ambitious painting from Van Gogh's Dutch period. Before starting on the definitive painting he made several drawings and two painted studies. He did this on the spot in the home of the De Groot-van Rooij family, the family who modelled for him. It was not Van Gogh's intention to portray them exactly. What he was concerned about was conveying the atmosphere and primitiveness of peasant life. The copy in the Kröller-Müller Museum is the second study made by Van Gogh. Van Gogh painted the definitive version of 'The potato eaters' in his studio. This work can be admired in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam."