Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles is arguably the most famous chambre in the history of art. It also held special significance for the artist, who created three distinct paintings of this intimate space from 1888 to 1889. An exhibition opening in February at the Art Institute of Chicago brings together all three versions of The Bedroom for the first time in North America, offering a pioneering and in-depth study of their making and meaning to Van Gogh in his relentless quest for home.
Van Gogh painted his first Bedroom just after moving into his beloved “Yellow House” in Arles, France, in 1888. He was so enamored with the work, now in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, that after water damage threatened its stability, he became determined to preserve the composition by painting a second version while at an asylum in Saint-Rémy in 1889.
Identical in scale and yet distinct from the original, that second work is now one of the icons of the Art Institute’s permanent collection. Van Gogh created a smaller third version, now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, as a gift for his mother and sister a few weeks after making the second. While the three paintings at first appear almost identical, when examined closely, each reveals distinct and unique details.
The Chicago exhibition is the first to truly delve into the history of the three paintings.
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 haven, creative chamber, and physical reality — and follows the evolution of this theme throughout his career, beyond the Yellow House to the asylum at Saint-Rémy. The presentation concludes with Van Gogh’s final residence in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he once again painted a series of cottages — returning to the idea that first evoked in him a sense of home.
“Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” features approximately 36 works by the artist, including paintings, drawings and illustrated letters, as well as a selection of books and other ephemera known to have been in Van Gogh’s possession.
Enhancing the exploration of the artist’s works and his longing for a place of his own are several engaging interactive presentations.
A digitally enhanced reconstruction of his bedroom allows viewers the chance to experience his state of mind and the physical reality of the space that so inspired him, while other enriching digital components bring to light significant recent scientific research on the three Bedroom paintings.
Feb. 14–May 10 in Regenstein Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago. On the Web…