Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles is one of the artist’s most famous works. Painted with vibrant colors, which has become the artist’s hallmark, The Bedroom features the interior of his room in Arles where he spent some time during his life. The painting was mentioned in the letters to van Gogh’s brother, Theo, and it is believed that the painter was emotionally attached to it. Let us look at the work in our art review example in more detail.
The Bedroom (or Bedroom in Arles, as it is named alternatively) was painted in October 1888 during Van Gogh’s stay in Arles, in the “Yellow House”. He did it with oil on canvas, and its original size was 72.4 cm x 91.3 cm. The painting depicts the very bedroom in Van Gogh’s temporary quarters. It is noticeable that the furniture and all the interior look very simple. Indeed, when choosing a place to stay, the painter considered renting a flat first, but then decided to go with a cheaper option and find an apartment to share with other painters who planned on joining him later.
By looking at the painting, we can see the bed on the right side. To the left, there are two chairs and a table between them. In the back, there is a window slightly opened inwards. In spite of the bright contrasting colors, the entire painting looks slightly discolored, which is the result of aging. It is also suggested that walls were originally a shade of purple, not blue. On the other hand, blues and oranges (the color of wooden elements in the furniture) form a contrast to each other, similarly to the green floor and window which contrast with the red bed blanket. Also the objects in the painting do not cast any shadows, and the entire perspective looks distorted. Such bold decisions demonstrate Van Gogh’s divergence from the traditional Dutch art and his inspiration by Japanese prints.
The most prominent feature of Bedroom in Arles is its ability to invoke a certain feeling and appeal to human emotions. This particular aspect, and also the fact that the artist’s personal experience determines the composition, choice of colors, and the mood, suggest its strong ties with modernism. During his stay in the Yellow House, Van Gogh wrote to his brother about his experience there. In one of his letters, the artist said that the painting was suggesting calmness and rest with the warmth of its colors and plainness of the interior depicted in it. In another letter, some time later, Van Gogh confessed to Theo that, once the period of his illness was over, he could look at his paintings anew and see that the one especially stood out among them. That one canvas was The Bedroom.
Bedroom in Arles is definitive of Van Gogh’s artistic style in the sense that the painting conveys not just the subject (the bedroom), but also communicates the context in which the painting was created — most importantly, the painter’s state of mind. Imaginative and somewhat surreal depiction of a plain interior does, on the one hand, hint at the artist’s mental illness, and, on the other hand, suggests at his delicate artistic perception of the common things that surrounded him. The artist’s emotional style and his use of rhythmic strokes and contrast colors were influential for a range of later movements, such as Abstract Expressionism or Fauvism.
- Research in progress: Discoloration of Van Gogh’s ‘Bedroom’. Van Gogh Museum, 2012.
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