The Potato Eaters was Vincent Van Gogh's first attempt to create a masterpiece. Van Gogh had long felt that he had the talent to become a master, but he hadn't had the opportunity to show it yet. When his brother Theo asked Vincent in March of 1885 if he would have any works to submit to the Paris salon that year, Vincent felt sure that The Potato Eaters would be the painting to establish his reputation.
The Potato Eaters is a dark, moody painting depicting five peasants sitting around a plate of potatoes and drinking coffee made from chicory. The entire scene is lit by lamplight. Van Gogh portrayed the peasants in the cabin as coarse featured and crude. In all of his paintings depicting peasants he gave them thick lips, protruding cheekbones and low, flat foreheads. Van Gogh was criticized for his paintings of peasants, accused of portraying them as little more than animals. He insisted that what he was attempting to show was not contempt, but that he was trying to portray peasants at their purest and most primitive, as representing the ancient, traditional values of rural life. Like animals, they lived in harmony with their unspoiled, natural environment, and it was this that Van Gogh admired.
The painting was completed in 1885, but was never shown at the salon. Indeed, the only people who did see the picture that year were Vincent's brother Theo, Theo's neighbor, Alphonse Portier, an enthusiastic rather than successful art dealer in Impressionist work, and an older artist friend, Charles Serret. None responded favorably to the dark, sombre colors and mood of the painting, and it was never sold or shown in Van Gogh's lifetime. Indeed the painting has never been owned by anyone outside the Van Gogh family, and now belongs to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam