This painting of a pair of down-at-heel shoes prompts speculation on a variety of psychological questions. They have been seen as symbolizing Van Gogh’s difficult passage through life.
A fellow student in Paris reported that Vincent bought these workman’s boots at a flea market, intending to use them in a still life. Finding them still a little too smart, however, he wore them on a long and rainy walk. Only then were they fit to be painted.
Van Gogh made a number of still lives with old shoes. To him, as to several of his contemporaries, they may have been symbolic of the hard yet picturesque life of the laborer.