The Bedroom, 1888

Repeatedly, Van Gogh wrote in his letters that he considered The Bedroom to be one of his best paintings. It is quite a simple affair, an ‘interior without anything’ that nonetheless conveys a powerful suggestion of ‘utter repose’ with very different and contrasting tones ‘coarsely brushed in full impasto’, as described in his letter to Gauguin.

What we see is the bedroom of the yellow house in Arles. Van Gogh was hoping for Gauguin to join him in Arles.  He wanted to convince Gauguin that he was very much aware of the latest symbolic trends in painting. It was important to convey that no artistic controversies would stand in the way of their future cooperation.

Three versions of ‘The Bedroom’ have come to light to this day. This version is a rather precise rendition by Van Gogh after the first version, now in the Chicago Art Institute. That one was damaged and because Theo was aware of the quality of the work he advised Vincent to make this copy before it was to be restored.

‘Coarsely brushed impasto’ accounts for much of the painting’s spatial and expressive effect. Vincent reinforced the lines of the wooden floorboards by painting them parallel to the perspective lines. Together with the irregular shape of the room, the forced flight of the perspective seems to undo the intended effect of ‘utter repose’. His vehement personality seems to be domesticated by the strong contours of the furniture and the flat, unbroken fields of colour. 
By Fred Leeman Former Chief Curator of the Van Gogh Museum 10-11-2015