So, what is the meaning behind Vincent Van Gogh’s bedroom in the Arles painting?
This Dutch painter traveled to Europe and was proficient in his work.
His life was wrought with tragedy and misunderstandings (as described here).
Many people have been utterly captivated by his work, life, and experiences.
To properly understand him, as well as his life, it is vital to start by examining his paintings.
Moreover, we should also attempt to understand the fundamentals of his brushstroke, line, and color theory.
We should also go into the underlying meanings found in his work.
Studio of The South
To understand the Van Gogh painting, “Bedroom at Arles,” you need first to understand why Van Gogh was in Arles.
We have to go into where he was staying and what inspired the painting.
Understanding this is a critical part of successfully interpreting and understanding this complex and well-known piece.
If you have never heard of this painting before, don’t worry.
It’s one of his lesser-known classics.
This painting is not as often-viewed or discussed as the more well-known painting, such as “The Scream,” for example.
When considering this painting, it is vital to understand its history.
Van Gogh came to a town in the South of France, which was called Arles.
This happened in the winter of 1888.
It was a way for Van Gogh to advance in his career as an artist.
One of his main reasons for moving to this area was his admiration for several of the artists that lived there.
Most of whom became very famous Impressionist artists.
When Van Gogh moved to Arles, he initially booked a room at a hotel, where he hoped to stay, learn and paint.
That proved to be too expensive, though.
He decided instead to rent a house and spend his time there instead, as it was a much more affordable option.
The Yellow House
The house that Van Gogh rented is now referred to most often as the “Yellow House.”
This refers to the fact that Van Gogh painted a picture of this house, titling it as such.
The house itself has now become incredibly iconic.
It is well known for housing not only Van Gogh but other famous artists.
You see, Van Gogh’s goal was to create a studio area for the artists living in France.
Studio of the South
He aimed to create a “Studio of The South.”
Van Gogh envisioned the place where artists could live, rest and work, all while experiencing the freedom of the countryside.
He admired and appreciated that the countryside.
It had much better lighting than the densely populated city of Paris.
This also allowed for more expression and space for the artists.
Van Gogh was highly inspired by Japanese prints (of which he recreated several).
He also enjoyed the scenery and the sunlight, which he felt was more indicative of the Japanese art-print style, which he admired.
Van Gogh initially planned on having many artists become part of this studio retreat,.
He only ended up convincing one, whom he stayed with at this house.
The house itself was reasonably modest, consisting of two stories and only a few rooms.
It’s also important to note that the house itself was built on an angle.
The curtain walls were not as straight and atypically built.
This is also an important thing to consider when thinking about the painting, its influences, and other relevant details.
Van Gogh also had plenty of time to set-up before he invited anyone else to join him.
He spent a large amount of his time painting and decorating the house with his artworks.
A favorite subject matter of his were sunflowers, which is used quite consistently as a subject in his paintings.
They were used to brighten up the house and tie the rooms together.
It is also essential to note, as seen in his letters to his brother Theo, that he was attempting to makes some changes to this house.
He was looking forward to these changes with hope, optimism, and anticipation.
Van Gogh was feeling inspired, motivated, and moved.
He was prepared to make a great deal of change in his life too.
He was feeling inspired to create and make art with another artist.
It is essential to be aware of this.
It plays a significant role on how Van Gogh saw himself and his surroundings.
This was a place that he was happy about.
He enjoyed the space by the countryside.
He appreciated the opportunity to live, work and paint in a restful environment, as shown in this image.
This is something that he did not experience very often.
Living With Paul Gauguin
The artist who eventually joined him in this house was Paul Gauguin, a famous artist who is well-known in his own right.
Van Gogh and Paul were very close friends and they influenced each other in many ways.
However, the relationship was a very volatile one.
It wan an intense friendship that was prone to many fights, often physical.
It was a fight with Paul that caused Van Gogh to cut off his ear after hearing a voice telling him to “Kill Him” according to Paul.
Rather than do so, he removed his ear.
This volatile and strong friend was forged mostly in this house,.
It is crucial to consider this when looking at the painting and Van Gogh’s interpretation of restfulness, as well as his use of color theory.
The Meaning Behind Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles
Not long after moving into the Yellow House, Van Gogh wrote a letter to Theo, his brother, talking about the painting.
He discussed the fact that the surroundings of his room were very simple, and the importance of color in conveying his emotions and thoughts on the room.
The painting itself is considered to be quite simple in its subject matter.
Van Gogh paints with authenticity, allowing one to visualize and understand the bedroom and Van Gogh’s opinions on it.
The subject matter consists of a bed, with large and stocky timber, a window overlooking the street, and a table with water on it.
You can also see a chair and a second chair closer to the door, which leads into the second bedroom.
You can also see several paintings hanging on the walls.
While the subject matter is simple enough, it is also important to note the vibrant usage of color, which mirrors that of the Japanese prints that influenced him.
Colors are bold within the painting, focusing on colors such as blue, orange, red, and green.
He used bold color and a distorted perspective.
It also has a strange look and perspective that does not quite look 2-dimensional, similar to the wood prints he was influenced by.
There is depth and perspective in the painting, as highlighted by the use of line, but the use of color does not accurately reflect this.
This is one of the benefits of Van Gogh’s impressionist style, which has made him so popular and allows such detailed insights into his work.
Painting His Surroundings
It was typical of Van Gogh to paint his surroundings.
This is evident in the extensive collection of still-life paintings.
Furthermore, there were also copious amounts of landscape paintings, where he has captured and examined his surroundings.
This is commonplace of his style, and we can see it here in the work that he did in this room.
The subject matter was not simply accurately depicted.
He used colors and textures to also convey the emotion and the impression that he was aiming to lend to his artwork.
It is essential to be aware that this is a common trend within work done by Van Gogh.
It is typically easily recognizable in the pieces that he has created.
Van Gogh included images and sketches of this painting in his letters to his brother Theo,.
He went in-depth in discussing his room with explanations and detail of the exact things in his rooms.
As he was so excited about Studio of the South, Van Gogh discussed it at length and painted this with excitement, hope, and a vision for the future,.
This can be easily seen in his subject matter and the creation of this painting.
He re-painted this image when he was in Saint-Remy, and included sketches in letters to Paul Gauguin as well, which shows his enthusiasm clearly.
Bedroom in Arles
This painting, Bedroom in Arles, can also be found under the following names: La Chambre à Arles; Slaapkamer te Arles.
While this is what it is typically referred to by the art community, Van Gogh himself usually referred to it as “The Bedroom,” translated to La Chambre à coucher.
As was typical of Van Gogh, there are three different versions of this painting.
All very similar with only slight deviances between them (such as the subject matter in the pictures on the wall, for example).
It is essential to note that this was something he favored doing with many of his previous artworks.
Something visible when you look at the image is the presentation of an awkward perspective.
Perspective is a huge part of art and the way we look at a picture.
The perspective is strong, as you can see that this is a three-dimensional painting and room.
However, the lines do not always match up in the way that they should, and there is a sense of disorder and lopsidedness to the room itself.
This was likely intentional, as Van Gogh was highly skilled at creating perspective points.
This awkward perspective does not continue with the furniture, which all seems to be appropriately and correctly lined-up.
Hence, it is essential to note that this adds to the sense of discordant work, and gives the image almost a sense of chaos, instead of the restful intent of the image itself.
The bedroom itself is not hyper-realistic, so it makes sense for a stylistic choice such as this one to accompany other stylistic choices such as intense color.
Again, it is indicative of his influence in woodblock prints and the imagery and colors typically in Japanese work of the time.
The exciting and a-typical perspective gives the room and imagery more depth.
Again, something that is very typical of Van Gogh’s style is a powerful and stylistic method of outlining.
By this, I am referring to the thick, strong lines that you find in his work, especially around the outsides.
Line and form give meaning and shape to the artwork.
This is an intentional, stylistic choice and gives much of his work a very stylized look and feel about it.
This also offers his only attempt at showering anything, through the use of thicker lines, at the bottom of objects, where the shadow would fall.
As this was a time where he was particularly interested in Japanese prints, it is clear that he has utilized this style quite closely in this particular piece.
These outlines also give a strong sense of grounding to the picture and gives it a very signature look that Van Gogh typically engaged in.
Rigid & Organic Shapes
Van Gogh had many paintings were the use of organic shapes took precedence.
One such example is his famous piece, “Starry Night.”
In this particular painting, however, you can see evidence of Van Gogh indulging in far more angular lines.
Aside from that he also focused on the use of right-angles and geometric shapes.
He does not typically use many organism shapes throughout this piece.
The majority of his work in this painting is angular, with the bedframes, chair, walls, and floor all copying this pattern.
Some variation can be seen in the pillow, the clothing, and the towel.
It does create a fantastic pattern while allowing for contrast that allows for interesting visual shifts.
It is masterfully done and accurately represents the subject matter in its simplest form.
This was done without making it inaccessible to those unformulaic with his style and subject matter.
He goes back to his use of outlining here.
He also reinforces the more geometrical shapes with thicker lines, using thinner, lighter lines for the organic shapes.
This allows for a heightened sense of the meaning of contrast within the image that helps the viewer appreciate and properly examine the work,.
With a great sense of flow and balance to the picture.
This is typical of his work, allowing for a good sense of balance and flow, despite typically working with more bendable and organic shapes and subject matter.
Meaning & Versions
We have now a very clear understanding of the painting itself. We move onto Vincent Van Gogh bedroom in arles meaning.
Moreover, we can now pinpoint his stylistic choices and how that affects the imagery and our perspective of it.
Hence, we can start to break apart the meaning and the versions (remember, he painted this three times!), of this image.
This will allow us to better explore the work.
His first version was created in October 1888.
When he sent a letter to his brother, he went in-depth about his meaning and perspective on the piece.
He wanted to draw an accurate representation of his room.
It was important to Van Gogh to understand and encapsulate his room, with the objects, and layout that he had grown familiar with.
Van Gogh’s Use of Color
When he was working on this piece, he also wanted to focus on color and bringing emotion and perception to the room without the use of hyper-realism.
The colors that he picked were all relevant to his feelings on the subject matter,.
He described them all fondly, such as “yellow like fresh butter.”
This was to encapsulate the homey and relaxing feeling that he felt in this room.
This demonstrates a clear understanding of color theory.
That was the core aspect of this piece for Van Gogh- relaxation.
He wanted the viewer to be able to see and understand and feel that the room that he was staying in was bringing him a sense of peace and rest.
The colors, while bold and bright, were aimed at creating a sense of genuine rest.
Van Gogh created a second and a third version of the work.
The first was a recreation after the original got damaged in flood and was requested by his brother.
The third was a re-working of it after he had spent time in Saint-Remy’s an insane asylum after he had gone through some troubling times.
While Van Gogh meant for the image to invoke rest and peace, many people have discussed the fact that it invokes the opposite in the viewer.
Because the piece using bright and vivid colors that, while accurately coherent on the color wheel, are visually stimulating rather than restful.
In short, there is an energy to the image, and a discordance found in the lean of the walls and the lack of accurate perspectives.
We are left with the sensation that the paintings are going to fall off the wall, like the room itself is being tossed about on a stormy sea.
It is important to note that aspects like the beveled ceiling are shortly cut off in a choppy way, which is not at all harmonious.
With the thick bulk of the lines, and fact that everything feels very crowded into the room, the image is not one of immediate rest or peace.
However, that said, the imagery itself is visually pleasing as most of Van Gogh’s works are.
There is a cohesion in the discordant nature of his work, hinting at the fact that this room was inherently quite restful.
There is a popular interpretation of this juxtaposition.
It is the fact that Van Gogh was not a person who typically felt peace, as evidenced by his letters to his brother.
He was a tormented person who suffered from a range of mental illnesses.
These impacted his feelings of restlessness and loneliness.
Change After Saint-Remy
One of the most notable changes to the images, before and after his visit to Saint Remy in 1889, was the change in the paintings on the wall, within this picture.
The original painting features a portrait of Eugène Boch and another of Paul-Eugène Milliet.
These are both well-known paintings, which he used in his work.
This will change in the subsequent versions of the piece.
He used different combinations, focusing on a self-portrait and that of an unknown person.
There is a strong focus on the colors of orange and red, in that the colors themselves are strong.
This is particularly present and evident subsequent versions of the painting.
The work itself also seems to have a high saturation of colors, instead of a wide range of value.
In that, most colors, while bright, are around the same value or tone, with none being on the low or high end of the spectrum.
Key Facts/ Summary
The room depicted is at 2 Place Lamartine in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France. This was also known as the yellow house.
He intended it to become an artist’s retreat, where artists could support each other and grow in the sunshine-laden south of France.
Van Gogh stayed there with Paul Gauguin for nine weeks, before his admittance to Saint-Remy.
He was very much influenced by Japanese Prints and the flat use of color, as well as the lines.
You can see this in his absolute lack of shading and the brightly saturated, flat colors.
The majority of his work, which is seen here, in this painting is angular, with the bedframes, chair, walls, and floor all copying this pattern.
There is, of course, some variation that can be seen in the pillow, the clothing, and the towel.
It does create a fantastic pattern, with richness and depth, while allowing for contrast that allows for interesting visual shifts, which is a powerful visual.
It is meant to depict restfulness and the absolute peace of his room.
However, many people had speculated that it depicts his internal chaos and challenges.
It was a time when he was mentally unstable, before cutting off his ear and being institutionalized due to this.
We have seen the volatile nature of his relationship with Paul.
Hence, it is safe to assume that Van Gogh was undergoing an exciting yet tumultuous time in his life.
It was evident in the lines, work, color and chaos of this beautiful painting and stunning piece.
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