The retired goldsmith Anthonius “Antoon” Petrus Hermans (1822–1897) asked Vincent to design paintings for the dining room of his house on Eindhoven’s Keizersgracht. Hermans was very wealthy, and he had had the house, Rust na Arbeid (“Rest after Labour”), built by his friend the architect Pierre Cuypers. Vincent was impressed with Hermans:
“He’s a man I want to remain on good terms with if possible — a former goldsmith who has amassed and sold a very considerable collection of antiques no fewer than 3 times. Is now rich and has built a house that he’s filled with antiques again, and furnished with somevery fine oak chests &c. He decorates the ceilings and walls himself, and really well sometimes.” Read the complete letter
Hermans had already painted flowers on twelve panels in the dining room, but he had six panels left, each measuring 60 x 150 cm, and he asked Vincent to help him with these. Hermans wanted Vincent to produce designs for him to copy. Vincent questioned the idea:
“But he wants to paint those panels himself, and will that work?” Read the complete letter
Hermans initially asked Vincent for designs featuring saints, but Vincent suggested he create six scenes of farm life representing the four seasons instead. Hermans agreed. After a visit to his studio, Vincent sketched compositions depicting a sower, a ploughman, a shepherd, a grain harvest, a potato harvest, and a ox-cart in the snow. From these charcoal sketches, he made oil sketches, which he delivered to Hermans. The ox-cart scene was eventually replaced with one of wood-gatherers in the snow. Vincent had the designs photographed and sent the pictures to his friend Anthon van Rappard and his brother Theo.
In Vincent’s opinion, Hermans did a good job of copying the paintings, but his use of colour left something to be desired. They had agreed that Hermans would pay for the materials Vincent needed for the oil sketches and return the canvases after copying them. Vincent would be able to develop them into fully fledged paintings, and they would remain his property. It is not known whether Hermans ever actually returned the canvases; Vincent wrote that Hermans had never paid the paint shop bills and that the project had ultimately proved to be a financial setback for Vincent. Besides producing the sketches for Hermans, Vincent gave him painting lessons, as he also did for Dimmen Gestel, Anton Kerssemakers and Willem van de Wakker.
Hermans allowed Vincent to make still lifes from his large collection of antiquities; Vincent then took the works back to his studio.