Van Gogh produced three, almost identical paintings on the theme of his bedroom. The first, in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, was executed in October 1888, and damaged during a flood that occurred while the painter was in hospital in Arles. Almost a year later, Van Gogh made two copies of it: one, the same size, is now in the Art Institute in Chicago; the other, in the Musée d'Orsay, produced for his family in Holland, is smaller.
In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent explained what had provoked him to paint such a picture: he wanted to express the tranquillity, and bring out the simplicity of his bedroom using the symbolism of colours. Thus, he described: "the pale, lilac walls, the uneven, faded red of the floor, the chrome-yellow chairs and bed, the pillows and sheet in very pale lime green, the blood-red blanket, the orange-coloured wash stand, the blue wash basin, and the green window", stating "I wanted to express absolute repose with these different colours".
Through these various colours, Van Gogh is referring to Japan, to its crêpe paper and its prints. He explained: "The Japanese lived in very simple interiors, and what great artists have lived in that country" And although, in the eyes of the Japanese, a bedroom decorated with paintings and furniture would not really seem very simple, for Vincent it was "an empty bedroom with a wooden bed and two chairs". All the same he does achieve a certain sparseness through his composition made up almost entirely of straight lines, and through a rigorous combination of coloured surfaces, which compensate for the instability of the perspective.
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Oil on canvas
H. 57.3; W. 74 cm
©RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski