This is from the British National Museum, if I am not mistaken. I cannot remember exactly where I took it but I remember seeing it with such a shock because it was not hung with other things by Van Gogh. A shock too, because I had not seen it in a very long time.
I have always loved these early portraits and the landscapes also done in the North when he was struggling so hard to learn about Painting. They are not considered to be his best works by critics and historians but I think I like them the best. They appeal to my very taciturn insides, but as well, to my love of the Pathos in all things in Art.
The conception of this portrait is unusual in that it seems to harken back to another time, one closer to those of a German and Flemish sensibility. Almost nun-like in her cloak or habit, the model could be a study for one of the Potato Eaters, or possibly the wife of a miner painted in the Borinage region of Belgium when poor Vincent was up there trying to save the down-trodden people at a time when he couldn't even save himself. These portraits are straightforward, almost sculpted, and lacking in any virtuosity, painted with a quiet force as if from the hand of master carpenter than one of a painter. They are made from very simple colour harmonies, and the expressive nature found in these subjects, at this time in his life, seem to speak to all of humanity's suffering. They possess a universal appeal to most anyone who can open their hearts to them.