Van Gogh's painting First Steps was completed while Van Gogh was in the asylum voluntarily in Remy, France, in the fall of 1889-1890. Since he was unable to go out through the countryside and paint as he customarily did, Van Gogh used prints, reproductions and photographs as subjects. For this painting, Theodore Van Gogh sent him a black-and-white photograph of Millet's First Steps, a pre-Impressionist realistic painting in black conte crayon on tan paper.
Regarding technique, Van Gogh placed more distance between the subjects of his oil painting on his much larger canvas as well as giving it color in his Post-Impressionist style with its bold brush strokes. In "improvising" or "translating" the work of Millet, Van Gogh pays homage to the master; incidentally, Van Gogh also reveals much about the way that he judges himself and his own ability.