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The Bedroom Van Gogh

by VanGoghology

Innovation – The Bedroom Van Gogh

Three different renditions of Van Gogh’s former bedroom in the “Yellow House” exist. The first version, which is still part of Van Gogh’s estate, is held by the foundation established by Vincent’s nephew and has been on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam since 1962.

This version was created while Vincent awaited the arrival of his soon-to-be housemate Paul Gauguin, who moved into the home at No. 2 Place Lamartine in Arles a week later on Tuesday, October 23, 1888.

Sketch of Version one sent to Gauguin
Sketch of Version one sent to Gauguin
The Bedroom - Version one
The Bedroom - Version one
Vincent van Gogh THE BEDROOM Version 2
The Bedroom - Version two
Vincent van Gogh THE BEDROOM Version 3
The Bedroom - Version three

In a letter to Theo, Arles, 16 October 1888

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 blanket scarlet red.
The window green.
The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.


Sketch sent to Theo of version one.

Sketch sent to Theo of version one.

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. 

Vincent to Theo

Vincent mentions that the walls are of a pale violet, and the floor — “is of red tiles“. As you can see in the painting the walls are in fact blue, and the floor more of a reddish medium brown. Vincent wasn’t wrong of course; this is a clear case of diminishing pigment.

Several studies have been conducted throughout recent years to assess the degradation and instability of the pigments Vincent used, namely, cadmium yellow, chrome yellow, red lake, and other hues he employed – Chrome yellow contained sulfate groups and was prone to discoloration by turning a brownish-green when exposed to light. This can be seen in the Sunflowers series, while red lead essentially turns white therefore appears faded. as in the case of the bedroom floor

Plumbonacrite (3 PbCO3Pb(OH)2PbO) was discovered as the missing chemical link responsible for the degradation of Red Lead by an international team of researchers headed by Koen Janssens at the University of Antwerp.


THE BEDROOM - 1889 Version two - Saint Rémy de Provence

Although it was not uncommon for Vincent to paint the same subject multiple times, in this instance, the first rendition had been damaged by the Rhône River flooding, which overtime caused the paint to flake.

The flooding had occurred while Vincent was in the hospital in Arles after he severed his ear, and upon returning to the house in January 1889, he was naturally distraught having witnessed his beloved yellow house now foundered, and some of his paintings damaged.

In a letter to Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 30 April 1889

Today I’m packing up a crate of paintings and studies. There’s one which is flaking, onto which I’ve stuck newspapers – it’s one of the best and I think that when you look at it you’ll see more clearly what my studio, now foundered, could have been. This study, as well as a few others, was spoiled by damp during my illness.

The water from a flood rose up to a few feet from the house and, more importantly, when I came back water and saltpetre were oozing from the walls because the house had been without a fire during my absence. That had an effect on me, not only the studio having foundered, but even the studies which would have been the memories of it damaged, it’s so final, and my urge to found something very simple but durable was so strong. 

Vincent to Theo

On the 8th of May 1889, as Vincent feared the onset of another mental breakdown, he voluntarily entered the asylum of St. Paul near Saint-Rémy where he created some of his most memorable and revered paintings, including the second version of The Bedroom which he completed in September of that year.

Vincent’s brother Theo described the second version as having a very great intensity of color, like a bouquet of flowers.

Three weeks after completing the second version of The Bedroom, he created a third on a slightly smaller scale as a gift for his mother and sister Willemien with some slight, although notable changes.

  • Version one is on permanent exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
  • Version two is on permanent exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Version three is on permanent exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

All three versions of the Bedroom were brought together for an exhibition entitled Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2016. The exhibition featured approximately 36 works by the artist, including paintings, drawings, and illustrated letters, as well as a selection of books, other ephemera known to have been in Van Gogh’s possession as well as a digital reconstruction of his bedroom.

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