Van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles
Van Gogh only became an artist in the last ten years of his life. During this period, between 1880 and 1890, he worked fervently and with a great deal of self-criticism, producing 2125 works of art, of which there are paintings, drawings and sketches. It was in these last years of Van Gogh’s life that he produced one of his best known paintings, Bedroom at Arles. This artist’s work was based on a deep and passionate need to express his observations and experiences in paintings and drawings.
Bedroom at Arles was painted in September of 1889 while living in his yellow house at Arles in the south of France. The painting is one of five versions: three oil on canvas and two letter sketches. After painting the first painting, Van Gogh decided to paint one for his mother and sister. The two copies of the original painting were produced while Van Gogh was under voluntary confinement at the mental asylum in Saint Remy.
In painting his own bedroom, Van Gogh admits us into his intimate world. We are able to glimpse into the artist's personal space. Like a portrait, Van Gogh's Bedroom presents an image of a man and of his life.
Van Gogh wanted to express the calm and peacefulness of the space. Despite this intention, there is a restlessness to the piece. A void fills the central space and the room projects a sense of isolation and tension. Although no figures (besides those featured in the portraits hanging on the wall) appear in the work, we are given a sense of the man who inhabits the room simply from gazing at his belongings.
Van Gogh's room is scattered with objects at different angles and in different, contrasting colors. Van Gogh projects movement into the scene through the use of lines. Using the perspective of a landscape, the artist draws us into the room with the lines of the floor, walls and bed. The naive realism of the tables, chairs and the room's other contents creates a feeling of intimacy and intense feeling.
The theme of pairs and singles pervades the work. Two portraits hang on the wall near to a single landscape. Two pillows sit on a single bed. Two bottles rest on one table and a double window opens next to a single mirror. In juxtaposing these images, Van Gogh is communicating the difficulty he has in creating meaningful relationships.
The bright and bold use of color in Bedroom at Arles was typically used late in his Paris period. Yellow was Van Gogh’s favorite color throughout his stay in Arles and Saint-Remy, whether his paintings were indoors or outdoors. The most striking and unusual aspect of this painting is the angle in which it was painted.
Van Gogh was so thrilled and excited about his painting (Bedroom at Arles) that he described it in great detail to his brother Theo in a letter. He wrote: “...Another size 30 canvas. This time it’s just simply my bedroom. Only here color is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination. The walls are pale violet. The floor is of red tiles. The wood of the bed and chairs is the yellow of fresh butter, the sheets and pillows very pale yellow. The coverlet scarlet. The window green. The toilet table orange, the basin blue. The doors lilac. And that is all-there is nothing in this room with its closed shutters. The broad lines of the furniture again must express inviolable rest. This by way of revenge for the enforced rest I was obliged to take...”
Bedroom at Arles is one of many beautifully executed masterpieces. Van Gogh found his true means of self expression. His last paintings radiate life and vitality, a great contrast to his own life, tragic and premature.
It is a testament to the great talent of Van Gogh that this representation of his bedroom reveals a great deal about the character and emotional state of the artist himself.
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