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Van Gogh’s empathy

Posted January. 19, 2022 09:56,   

Updated January. 19, 2022 09:56


There is a drawing that portrays the agonizing but kind gaze of the artist- “Sorrow” by Vincent van Gogh. The pencil drawing is lesser known than the painter’s other art pieces but captures the artist’s empathy.  

The woman in the drawing is crouched on the floor, with her face buried in her arms. She appears to be pregnant, judging from the lower part of her belly. Even without the title written on the lower right side of the painting, it seems quite evident that she feels sorrow. Why is she so miserable? One needs to put oneself in the shoes of Gogh to find out.

Van Gogh met the woman in the drawing in The Hague in 1882, two years after he decided to become a professional artist. She was a poor prostitute three years older than the artist. She had a five-year-old daughter and pregnant with a child. She had no one to help her, and Gogh took the homeless woman in. He gave her and her child a place to live, and she modelled for his paintings. That was how the drawing ‘Sorrow’ was created.

The artist felt sorrow in his heart as he worked on the drawing. He did not criticize her for what she did – poverty was the cause behind prostitution, miscarriage, and pregnancy. He witnessed the sorrowful reality of poverty that was took hostage of her life. He saw the essence of life and meaning of existence as he sketched. As he wrote to his brother, Theo, Gogh wanted to create paintings that moved people’s hearts. He was a warm-hearted person as well as a genius artist. He was also the one who looked after the woman who later had the baby through a risky operation. We should be aware of the empathy of the artist who created the drawing – one that relates to the agony and sadness of people.