Vincent moved back in with his parents in December 1883. He initially worked in a small studio at the back of the house, but after a few months, he rented a larger space elsewhere in the village.
Nuenen was an ideal setting for a ‘peasant painter’. It was home to many farmers, rural labourers and weavers, who Vincent sketched and painted at every opportunity. He proposed in early 1884 that he should start giving Theo the works he produced in return for the allowance provided by his brother.
'Now I have a proposal to make for the future. Let me send you my work and you take what you want from it, but I insist that I may consider the money I would receive from you after March as money I’ve earned.'
The idea was that Theo would sell the paintings on the Paris art market, but the plan came to nothing: French tastes ran more to colour, and Vincent’s work was distinctly dark in tone. This would change, but not for a while yet.
Vincent’s parents found it hard to live with their eldest son, who refused to behave conventionally. Shortly after his father died in late March 1885, Van Gogh left the family home and moved into his studio, where he started work on The Potato Eaters.
Vincent combined his hard work on “that thing with the peasants around a dish of potatoes in the evening” with chain smoking and a poor diet. Most of his money went on artist’s materials. Later that year, he decided to enrol at the academy of art in Antwerp and left the Netherlands, never to return.
Antwerp had plenty to offer Vincent: good materials, drawing clubs with models, and churches, museums and galleries stuffed with art. The drawing classes he took at the academy were, however, far too traditional for him.
'I actually find all the drawings I see there hopelessly bad — and fundamentally wrong. And I know that mine are totally different — time will just have to tell who’s right. Damn it, not one of them has any feeling for what a classical statue is.'
He did not stay in the Flemish city for long. He arranged with Theo to come to Paris and take lessons in the studio of Fernand Cormon – an artist who was very popular with foreign students. Theo began to look for an apartment large enough for him and his brother, but before he could find one, Vincent turned up in Paris unannounced at the end of February 1886.
'My dear Theo, Don’t be cross with me that I’ve come all of a sudden. I’ve thought about it so much and I think we’ll save time this way.'