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One Bedroom, Three Ways

Even if you don’t know that it’s his, Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom is an incredibly well-recognized staple of art history. Painted for the first time in 1888, this space in van Gogh’s ‘Yellow House’ in Arles is just one of many representations of the artist’s search for a place he could truly call home.

What many do not realize, however, is that van Gogh painted his Bedroom not once, but three times.

Vincent van Gogh's Bedroom, original version.
This one was painted just after the artist had moved in to the Yellow House. He’d exhausted himself preparing for Paul Gauguin to move in, and was inspired to paint his bedroom after spending more than two days in bed. It usually lives in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.


Van Gogh's Bedroom, copy.
This second Bedroom was painted in 1889, at an asylum in Saint-Rémy. There had been flooding at the Yellow House that damaged some of van Gogh’s canvases, and this version was painted as a copy in case attempts at reinforcing the original went awry. This one is in the Chicago Art Institute’s permanent collection.


Vincent van Gogh's Bedroom, gift.
The third Bedroom is a smaller version, painted a few weeks after the second as a gift for his mother and sister. It is kept at Musée d’Orsay in Paris.


a wide view of the gallery displaying all three versions of van Gogh's Bedroom, with gallery visitors silhouetted by the lights
The exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago brings all three together for a side-by-side comparison and a look into the life of Vincent van Gogh.


Of course, the exhibit is more than just these three paintings. To put them in context, the Art Institute has put together a timeline, a life-sized reproduction of the Yellow House and van Gogh’s bedroom, interactive displays, explanatory videos, books and ephemera, and a collection of three dozen works by the artist.

To promote the exhbition, there was a window design project to promote the exhibition, where businesses along and around Chicago’s Michigan Avenue decorated a display window on the theme of van Gogh’s Bedroom. For the truly dedicated, you could even stay in Vincent’s Airbnb.

For those who can’t make it to Chicago, here are a few photos from my foray into history. Apologies for odd angles and whatnot, I’m short and the exhibit’s popularity didn’t allow much room to navigate around the crowds.

a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1887
Of course you’ve gotta get a selfie of the man himself. This one is from 1887, keeping in context with his time in the Yellow House.


The Poet's Garden, a landscape scene from 1888


A letter from Vincent to his brother Theo.
A letter from Vincent to his brother Theo. I can’t read French.


La Berceuse (Woman Rocking a Cradle; Augustine-Alix Pellicot Roulin, 1851–1930)
One of the things I love about going to see exhibitions in person is details like this. I don’t know if I would ever have noticed the text painted into the red area if I’d just seen a copy of this painting printed in a book. (La Berceuse, 1889)


a view of a life-size recreation of van Gogh's bedroom, as seen from the angle of the painting.
The Art Institute build a full-size replica of the bedroom, complete with the items laid out inside. In the surrounding area, the outline of the Yellow House was painted on the floor and showed just how small this homey little space truly was.


Van Gogh's portraits of Eugene Boch and Paul-Eugène Milliet.
In the original Bedroom painting, portraits of two of van Gogh’s friends were hanging on the wall. These guys right here, Eugene Boch and Paul-Eugène Milliet.


Self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh holding a palette, 1889.
This self-portrait, painted at Saint-Rémy in 1889, shows him from the left… so you can’t see his mutilated ear. In the second version of the Bedroom painting, the portraits of his friends are replaced by a self-portrait and an image of an unidentified woman.


four tubes of paint and a rectangular artist's palette covered with leftover paints, belonging to van Gogh
Where the magic happened…one of van Gogh’s palettes.


A Corridor in the Asylum, 1889
I spent too long staring at the Bedrooms and had to rush through the remainder of the exhibit before the museum closed. This image of a corridor in the asylum at Saint-Rémy practically demanded I stop to look, though.

If you want to see Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, you’d best get to Chicago right quick. The exhibition will be open for just one more week, closing on Tuesday, May 10. Come visit!

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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