Van Gogh’s Bedrooms get a closer look at Chicago's Art Institute exhibition

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms get a closer look at Chicago's Art Institute exhibition
Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom. 1889. The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection

The fascination with Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of his Arles bedroom continues nearly a century and a half after their creation with the Art Institute of Chicago’s mounting of a major exhibition titled, “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” which opens, appropriately, on Valentine’s Day.

The exhibition is the first ever dedicated to the Bedroom paintings. For the first time in North America, visitors will be able to view all three versions of Van Gogh’s bedroom paintings presenting an in-depth study of documentary, scientific, and physical evidence of each.

Beginning with Van Gogh’s early canvases of cottages and birds’ nests, the show explores the artist’s use of the motif of home as a haven, creative chamber, and physical reality. In total, the exhibition includes thirty-six paintings, drawings, and illustrated letters by Van Gogh. This is accompanied by an Interactive Digital Experience that features an enhanced reconstruction of his bedroom–allowing visitors to experience the physical reality of the space.

In addition to the exhibition, the Art Institute–in an innovative promotional move–has built a life-size replica of Van Gogh’s famous bedroom that those looking for an interactive experience can rent. The River North apartment with the “Van Gogh” bedroom is located near State Street and Grand Avenue. It is listed on the Airbnb website a the rate of $10 a night (February is already sold out).

Van Gogh’s life was short and nomadic. By the time of his death at age of 37, he had lived in 37 separate residences across 24 cities–usually as a boarder or a guest of family or friends. In 1888, he finally moved into his own beloved “Yellow House” in Arles. Of his many bedrooms, Van Gogh immortalized only this one–not just once, but three times.

Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Van Gogh painted his first picture of the bedroom shortly after moving into his “Yellow House” in 1888. The painting, pictured here, now resides in the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom, 1889. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, sold to national museums under the Treaty of Peace with Japan, 1959.

Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom, 1889. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, sold to national museums under the Treaty of Peace with Japan, 1959.

Van Gogh created a smaller third version of the bedroom, as a gift for his mother and sister, a few weeks after making his second painting of the bedroom (part of the Art Institute collection). Version three, pictured above, is in the permanent collection of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The second version, pictured at the top of the post, was painted in 1889 while Van Gogh was in an asylum in Saint-Rémy.

Looking at the three bedroom paintings, side by side, at first they appear to be almost identical. By examining them a little closer the differences become more evident.

The exhibition does an excellent job of pointing out the differences between the paintings by showing detailed close ups of the floors, the chairs, the bed, the window and the wall portraits from each of the three versions of his paintings.

What, perhaps, stands out the most are the different colors and textures of the floor–especially between version one and two.

Shortly after painting his first bedroom, Van Gogh made two paintings just of chairs—one was his chair–a simple pine chair.  The other was his housemate artist Paul Gauguin’s chair–an elegant walnut chair. The chairs reflected the housemate roles as student and leader as well as their personalities.

The bedrooms exhibition examines, in detail, the differences of the pine chair in the three versions of Van Gogh’s paintings.

Chair from original 1988 painting.

Chair from original 1988 painting.

The chair, pictured here, from the original painting, version one, is painted in mostly flat tints except for the back of the chair, which the artist first painted with a light-green layer and contrasting bright-blue outlines.

Chair from version two.

Chair from version two.

Version two from the painting in the Art Institute collection is depicted with more textural brushwork. By looking at the seats of the chair, you can observe the impasto, or thick application of paint, in contrasting colors—reflecting the more expressive style Van Gogh developed in Saint-Rémy.

Detailed look at chair in version three of the painting.

Detailed look at chair in version three of the painting.

Version three, painted only weeks after version two, is quite similar to the second with only subtle differences back-dropped by a lighter blue color on the walls and less color on the floor.

“Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” runs from February 14, 2016 through May 10, 2016 at the Art Institute of Chicago, Regenstein Hall. For additional information and related events, visit the Art Institute of Chicago website.

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