Van Gogh’s Bedroom

In these days of self-isolation we are spending more time in the bedroom than we ever would have imagined. Sleeping, watching movies, listening to music, reading books, relaxing, meditating, and more.

Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of his small bedroom in the Yellow House located at 2 Place Lamartine in Arles in the south of France has become one of the artist’s most well known. Critics have referred to his simple bedroom is a chapter of his life.

On 17 October 1888, Van Gogh sent a letter to Paul Gauguin. He wrote “I have done, still for my decoration, a size 30 canvas of my bedroom with the white deal furniture that you know. Well, I enormously enjoyed doing this interior of nothing at all. Of a simplicity à la Seurat.”

The following day, he wrote to his brother, Theo to describe his painting.
“This time it’s simply my bedroom, but the colour has to do the job here, and though it's 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 painted in 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. 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.”

As a main subject, the semantic center of the painting is the bed. Van Gogh wrote about its purchase: "I have bought not a metal bed, but a rustic wooden one. Such beds create an impression of something thick, stable and calm".

Wanting to present the image of a snug home, Van Gogh even thought of depicting a woman on the bed or putting a cradle next to it, but later rejected that idea.

One of the distinguished details is his pairing of objects. Two chairs, two pillows, two portraits, two engravings were a symbol of peace, balance and dispelled a sense of loneliness. There are also two doors in the painting: the right one led to the stairs to the attic, the left one to the second bedroom.

One year later, Van Gogh was sent to the mental asylum in Saint-Remy where he painted many works including two more versions of this painting.


Read more notable stories on Bedroom in Arles written in the exhibition book.

Discover a virtual Van Gogh’s bedroom in the multimedia exhibition Van Gogh: Life and Art on show from 4 June until 31 December. Tickets now on