In a burst of autumnal spirit, Van Gogh first slept in the Yellow House, where slumber met creativity. Here, amidst warm hues, he painted what has become the most celebrated bedroom in the annals of art history. This depiction, an expansive still life, raises questions about the narrative of Vincent's life on the cusp of Gauguin's entrance.
In the realm of Arles, May 1888 marked Van Gogh's initiation of renting the Yellow House. Initially bare, this space served solely as his studio, while he clung to his hotel room for rest. A transformation occurred in August when he acquired twin beds – one for himself, the other awaiting a guest, a fellow artist. Mid-September saw him finally embracing his own bed. His delight penned to his sister Wil manifest the sentiment of newfound freedom: "I can live and breathe, and think and paint".
Within this haven of creation, Van Gogh's brush breathed life into his finest masterpieces. Echoing from Arles came his belief that 'the most beautiful paintings are those one dreams of while smoking a pipe in one's bed.' It's here the seed of The Bedroom (1888) took root.
The 16th of October witnessed Vincent's artistic labor begin on this iconic piece, intended as a glimpse for his brother Theo into his newfound dwelling. Advising Theo that gazing at the painting should "rest the mind, or rather, the imagination", it offers us today a portal into his domestic universe.
Despite the bed's seemingly narrow visage, Van Gogh's descriptions bestowed it with the grandeur of a "wide double bed", flanked by twin pillows atop a vivid scarlet blanket. One wonders, was this an invitation for shared slumber? Twin chairs prelude a powerful rendition of his own "empty chair", realized weeks later and now enshrined in the National Gallery, London.
The distant wall cradles his attire on a series of hooks, accompanied by the straw hat that shielded him from Provençal sunrays. A miniature still life graces the washstand, hosting a water flask, glass, jug, basin, soap, and three bottles – perhaps including his razor. Above, a mirror, freshly procured, likely served both self-grooming and self-portraiture.
The room's perspective induces a subtle sway, akin to a dream's gentle cadence. This, partly due to the room's unconventional trapezoidal shape. The house's diagonal facade, which greeted a public garden, sculpted the room's angle near the washstand. The bed, almost looming, plays with our senses, with the foot appearing higher than the head.
In his correspondence to Theo, Vincent painted the walls as "pale violet". Time, however, has muted his pigments – the blended violet's cochineal red now faded, casting the walls in a bluish hue. The Van Gogh Museum's experts have resurrected a digital recolorized image, a glimpse into the painting's original visage
Stay tuned for more intriguing bedrooms in our upcoming newsletters, where we delve into the captivating spaces that have shaped the lives and legacies of renowned figures throughout history.
Wishing you blissful dreams,
The SleepWell Team