Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles

Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles

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Painting Date
17th of October 1888
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One of Vincent’s favorite paintings from the Arles period and perhaps one of his best overall, The Artist’s Bedroom in Arles was special to both Vincent and Theo.

There are three depictions of Vincent’s bedroom in Arles, this one, housed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was created in the Autumn of 1888 in Arles prior to Gauguin’s arrival. Vincent created two others nearly a year later in the asylum in St. Remy de Provence.    A large format re-creation of the Arles painting, now housed in Chicago, was done on a size 30 canvas in early September as Vincent feared water damage to the first, still in Arles.  A few weeks later as October 1889 neared, he created a third version for his mother and sister back home in Holland.  This last work was smaller in format but depicted the same bedroom from the same perspective.

An easy way to distinguish between them is to look at the portraits above the bed.  The painting in smaller format intended for Vincent’s mother and sister shows a painting above the head of the bed with a pinkish background.  The first creation from Arles has lighter lavender walls whereas the second version, done in St. Remy in the same large format has the lavender accentuated and the portrait of Eugene Boch is replaced by a portrait of Vincent he had created recently in St. Remy.  The postman Roulin’s portrait is also changed in this second version – to one of a blonde with a white blouse.


“My dear Theo —
At last I’m sending you a little croquis to give you at least an idea of the direction the work is taking. Because today I’ve gone back to it.
My eyes are still tired, but anyway I had a new idea in mind, and here’s the croquis of it. No. 30 canvas once again.
This time it’s simply my bedroom, but the colour has to do the job here, and through its being simplified by giving a grander style to things, to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In short, looking at the painting should rest the mind, or rather, the imagination.
The walls are of a pale violet. The floor — is of red tiles.
The bedstead and the chairs are fresh butter yellow.
The sheet and the pillows very bright lemon green.
The bedspread scarlet red.
The window green.
The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.
And that’s all — nothing in this bedroom, with its shutters closed.

The solidity of the furniture should also now express unshakeable repose.  Portraits on the wall, and a mirror and a hand-towel and some clothes.

The frame — as there’s no white in the painting — will be white.  This to take my revenge for the enforced rest that I was obliged to take.  I’ll work on it again all day tomorrow, but you can see how simple the idea is. The shadows and cast shadows are removed; it’s coloured in flat, plain tints like Japanese prints.  It will contrast, for example, with the Tarascon diligence and the night café.

I won’t write to you at length, because I’m going to start very early tomorrow with the fresh morning light, to finish my canvas.”

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 16 October 1888

Look here, I wrote to you the other day that my vision was strangely tired. Well, I rested for two and a half days, and then I got back to work. But not yet daring to go outside, I did, for my decoration once again, a no. 30 canvas of my bedroom with the whitewood furniture that you know.  Ah, well, it amused me enormously doing this bare interior.  With a simplicity à la Seurat.

In flat tints, but coarsely brushed in full impasto, the walls pale lilac, the floor in a broken and faded red, the chairs and the bed chrome yellow, the pillows and the sheet very pale lemon green, the bedspread blood-red, the dressing-table orange, the washbasin blue, the window green.

I had wished to express utter repose with all these very different tones, you see, among which the only white is the little note given by the mirror with a black frame (to cram in the fourth pair of complementaries as well). Anyway, you’ll see it with the others, and we’ll talk about it. Because I often don’t  know what I’m doing, working almost like a sleepwalker.”

To Paul Gauguin. Arles, Wednesday, 17 October 1888

“When I saw my canvases again after my illness, what seemed to me the best was the bedroom.
It seems to me that your apartment would be cluttered if I were to send all of this to you in Paris, especially after your wife will be staying there too. Then it would get the canvases known that would have lost their bloom and be talked about downstairs as if they were nothing, before the time and the hour.
The sum we’re working with is certainly quite respectable, but a lot of it runs away and we must above all be watchful to ensure that not everything slips through the net from year to year. It’s also the fact that even if the month goes on I’m always trying to strike more or less a balance through production, at least relative. So many annoyances certainly make me a little anxious and fearful, but I’m not yet in despair.
The trouble I foresee is that much prudence will be required to prevent the expenses we have when selling from exceeding the sale itself when the day comes. As regards that, how many times have we been in a position to see that sad thing in the lives of artists.”

To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 22 January 1889

“You’ll probably find the interior the ugliest, an empty bedroom with a wooden bed and two chairs – and yet I’ve painted it twice on a large scale. I wanted to arrive at an effect of simplicity as described in Felix Holt. In telling you this you’ll perhaps understand the painting quickly, but it’s likely that it will remain ridiculous for others, not forewarned. To make simplicity with bright colours isn’t easy though, and I find that it can be useful to show that one can be simple with something other than grey, white, black and brown. That is the raison d’être for that study.”

To Willemien van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, 21 October 1889


Painting, Oil on Canvas – 72 x 90 cm size 30 Figure
Arles: October 17, 1888
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 482, JH: 1608

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