The Netherlands 1853 – France 1890
Van Gogh's bedroom at Arles
[Le chambre de van Gogh à Arles] 1889
oil on canvas
canvas 57.5 (h) x 74.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Transferred in application of the Peace Treaty with Japan 1959
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Vincent van Gogh invites us into the intimate environment of his bedroom at Arles. The cool blue wall colour highlights the vertical surfaces and contrasts with the textured brown floor. A patch of red on the bedcover provides a strong contrast to the other objects around the room.
The awkward tilt of the room and the linear brushstrokes on the floor encourage the viewer into the space. Van Gogh crops the tops of the doors, windows and paintings so that we are focused on one end of the room with the bulky wooden bed indicating the room’s depth.
In October 1888, van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo about his intention of painting his bedroom in Arles. At the outset, the artist noted that he would paint the wood of the bed and chairs the yellow of fresh butter, the bed cover scarlet and the window green. The bold colouring of Japanese prints was an inspiration for the artist.
This painting is one of three canvases of the subject; each varies slightly in colour, size and the depiction of certain details. This version was made for the artist’s mother and is the smallest of the three.
After an exhausting week of intense painting, van Gogh wrote to Gauguin about his desire to paint a canvas to suggest ‘absolute restfulness’. As the artist waited for his friend to join him at the Yellow House in Arles, the restfulness he desired in his bedroom painting seemed to elude him. The spartan space and angled surfaces create a sense of unease, providing an insight into the artist’s troubled emotional state.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay