On loan from the Musee D’Orsay, the popular Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles, is currently on display at The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in an exhibition titled Guest of Honor: Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles. The painting will be displayed along with three other paintings by Van Gogh including Self Portrait with Straw Hat – 1887.
In a letter to his brother, Theo, on October 16, 1888, Van Gogh wrote:
“This time it’s just simply my bedroom, only here colour is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.
The walls are pale violet. The floor is of red tiles.
The wood of the bed and chairs is the yellow of fresh butter, the sheets and pillows very light greenish-citron.
The coverlet scarlet. The window green.
The toilet table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.
And that is all – there is nothing in this room with its closed shutters.
The squareness of the furniture again must express inviolable rest. Portraits on the walls, and a mirror and a towel and some clothes.
The frame – as there is no white in the picture – will be white.
This by way of revenge for the enforced rest I was obliged to take.
I shall work on it again all day, but you see how simple the conception is. The shadows and the cast shadows are suppressed; it is painted in free flat tints like the Japanese prints. It is going to be a contrast to, for instance, the Tarascon diligence and the night café.”
In another letter on October 17, 1888, again mentioning the bedroom, he wrote,
“This bedroom is something like the still life of the “Romans Parisiens” with the yellow, pink and green covers, you remember it. But I think the workmanship is more virile and simple. No stippling, no hatching, nothing, only flat colours in harmony.”
Also on October 17, 1888, Van Gogh wrote to Gauguin about the painting,
“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.
With flat tints, but brushed on roughly, with a thick impasto, the walls pale lilac, the ground a faded broken red, the chairs and the bed chrome yellow, the pillows and the sheet a very pale green-citron, the blanket blood red, the washstand orange, the washbasin blue, the window green. By means of all these very diverse tones I have wanted to express an absolute restfulness, you see, and there is no white in it at all except a little note produced by the mirror with its black frame (in order to get the fourth pair of complementaries into it).”
Clearly Van Gogh was pleased with his work. He created five different versions of his bedroom, 3 in oil and 2 in letter sketches. The 3 paintings vary only slightly in minor details. It is believed that the version of the painting that is on display at the DIA is a copy of the original which Van Gogh produced while in the asylum in Saint-Remy.