During this era of the Vincent van Gogh's life, a failed love affair, his father's death and a short-lived period of study at the Antwerp Academy formed a bleak backdrop for Vincent's ongoing artistic development. During a stay in the northern village of Nuenen in late 1883 through 1885, the painter focused on agrarian scenes of peasants working the soil and weavers plying their craft. In 1885, the artist produced The Potato Eaters, a work many consider to be his first masterpiece. In this depiction of a farm family seated around their humble table, Vincent invokes the influence of Rembrandt by virtue of the shadowy setting that is nevertheless filled with personality and life. A heaping plate of potatoes illustrates the simple wealth of those who earn their living on the land. The companionable atmosphere, lit by the warm glow of a single lamp, inspires in the viewer a yearning to take part this lowly yet companionable scene.
Van Dyke publicly endorsed Bernie Sanders as his choice for the Democratic candidate in the 2016 US presidential election. Van Dyke, a New Deal Democrat, had not actively campaigned for a candidate since Eugene McCarthy in 1968. In July 2016, Van Dyke said of Donald Trump, "He has been a magnet to all the racists and xenophobes in the country, I haven't been this scared since the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think the human race is hanging in a delicate balance right now, and I'm just so afraid he will put us in a war. He scares me."
Van Gogh had no recollection of the event, suggesting that he may have suffered an acute mental breakdown. The hospital diagnosis was "acute mania with generalised delirium", and within a few days the local police ordered that he be placed in hospital care. Gauguin immediately notified Theo, who on 24 December had proposed marriage to his old friend Andries Bonger's sister Johanna. That evening Theo rushed to the station to board a night train to Arles. He arrived on Christmas Day and comforted Vincent, who seemed to be semi-lucid. That evening he left Arles for the return trip to Paris.