Bartje. Bruine bonen. Bronze age dolmens and turf huts. TT racing, natural gas and sheep pens. Simple but hearty fare such as brown beans and krentjebrij. These are some of the highlights Dutch people associate with the Netherlands’ most sparsely populated province: Drenthe. This part of the country is most famous for its unspoilt natural landscapes. Its vast sandy areas, watercourses and peat marshes make you feel time has stood still. It’s certainly beautiful, but also quite static.
When artists in the past visited Drenthe to gather inspiration, they used to single out the wild northern part of the province. However, in the autumn of 1883, Van Gogh found himself among the southern peat moors instead. These wet, sodden fenland areas have little to offer that is of interest, apart from peat that is. And during his stay, from September to December, we can safely assume that the weather was not always fair.
In this early stage of his career as an artist – he had just seriously taken up painting in addition to drawing – he experimented with effects of light and darkness. Through his painting of a ploughed field in Drenthe, Van Gogh tells us a story, which researchers at the Van Gogh Museum were able to reconstruct. He played around with the composition and the figures in the picture, but was able to hide his preparatory work effectively. And so you see, there is more going on in the peat bogs than you might think.
Spot the differences.