A Closer Look at Bedroom in Arles by Vincent Van Gogh

898 Shares

Bonus Download: New to painting? Start with my free Beginner's Guide to Painting.

In this post, I take a closer look at Bedroom in Arles by Vincent van Gogh—a colorful depiction of his bedroom, with an awkward perspective, and the typical van Gogh style.

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (First Version), 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1888 (First Version)

Key Facts

Here are some of the key facts about the painting:

  • It depicts van Gogh's bedroom at 2 Place Lamartine in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, which is known as the "Yellow House". He had plans for the Yellow House to become an artist's colony where artists could stay and support each other. That never fully came to fruition, but he did manage to convince fellow artist and painter Paul Gauguin to stay. The door on the left-hand side in the painting leads to the guest room Gauguin stayed in. Below is a painting by van Gogh featuring the Yellow House:
Vincent van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888
  • Below is a letter and sketch he sent 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).”

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Paul Gauguin dated 17 October 1888

Vincent van Gogh, Sketch Sent to Paul Gauguin
Vincent van Gogh, Sketch Sent to Paul Gauguin
  • He sent a similar letter and sketch to his brother Theo about the painting:

My eyes are still tired by then I had a new idea in my head and here is the sketch of it. Another size 30 canvas. 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 broad lines 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.

Letter 554 from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh dated 18 October 1888

Vincent van Gogh, Sketch Sent to His Brother Theo
Vincent van Gogh, Sketch Sent to His Brother Theo
  • On 8 May 1889, van Gogh was committed to the mental asylum in Saint-Rémy. He stayed for a bit over a year until 16 May 1890. During this time, he remained busy creating numerous drawings and paintings, including two more versions of Bedroom in Arles, shown below:
Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (Second Version), 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (Second Version), 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (Third Version), 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (Third Version), 1889

Paintings on the Wall

The three versions of the painting are roughly the same, however if you look closely, you will notice the paintings on the wall change.

The original features a portrait of Eugène Boch named The Poet and a portrait of Paul-Eugène Milliet named The Lover.

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (First Version), 1888 (Wall Paintings)
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Eugène Boch (The Poet), 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Eugène Boch (The Poet), 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Paul-Eugène Milliet (The Lover), 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Paul-Eugène Milliet (The Lover), 1888

In both the second and third versions of the painting, van Gogh used different combinations of a self-portrait and a portrait of an unknown woman.

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (Second Version), 1889 (Wall Paintings)
Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (Third Version), 1889 (Wall Paintings)

Use of Color

Van Gogh intended for color to be the main focus of the painting. In his own words, "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."

The colorful mix of orange, red, blue, and green express the "absolute restfulness" of his bedroom.

Orange and red are rich and intense, whilst the blue and green are relatively weak and are used more so as accents. That is interesting because orange is a complement of blue and red is a complement of green. Remember that complementary colors have a striking contrast against each other. Van Gogh was actively thinking about his use of complementary colors in this painting, as he referenced them in his letter to Paul Gauguin dated 17 October 1888.

The "blood" red appears to be the most dominant color in the painting, which may signify the importance of the bed.

What I also find interesting is how flat the painting appears with color out of the picture. Apart from a few dark accents, the values are mostly compressed around the middle range. Color saturation and hue are clearly the heroes in this painting, rather than value.

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (First Version), 1888 (Grayscale)

(If you want to learn more about color, make sure to grab my free Color Theory Cheat Sheet). 

Awkward Perspective

There is a strong sense of perspective in the painting, with many of the rigid lines converging to a point around the middle. However, the sense of perspective is awkward and imperfect.

Part of this is probably due to van Gogh's artistic choices (he clearly was not focused on capturing the bedroom with complete realism). Another part is due to the obscure dimensions of the room, with the far wall with the window being on a slant. You can see an illustration of the room here.

Stylistic Outlining

In typical van Gogh style, most of the objects in the painting have a strong outline. This gives the painting a cartoonish and stylized appearance.

Notice how van Gogh used darker outlines around the bottom of objects (the close-up below is a great example). This is the only sign of any shading. In his letter to Theo dated 18 October 1888, he wrote, "The shadows and the cast shadows are suppressed; it is painted in free flat tints like the Japanese prints."

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (First Version), 1888 (Outlining)

Rigid and Organic Shapes

The painting has a very rigid and angular theme, with mostly geometric shapes used to depict the bed frame, picture frames, tables, chairs, window, and doors. Some organic shapes are scattered amongst the painting for the bed cover, pillows, clothes hanging behind the bed, and towel hanging on the left-hand side. This creates a subtle contrast in shape, whilst retaining the overall rigid theme.

The rigid shapes also help emphasize the awkward sense of perspective in the painting (it is much easier to identify issues in perspective with rigid shapes than it is with organic shapes). This seems to go in favor of the overall appeal of the painting, despite it not being completely accurate.

Also, notice how outlines help reinforce the rigid shapes, whilst the organic shapes have much softer outlines.

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles (First Version), 1888 (Shapes)

(You might also be interested in my Painting Academy course. It goes into much more detail on the fundamentals of art.)

Key Takeaways

  • Painting is not just about capturing what you see; it is also about capturing what you want to see or how the subject makes you feel. In this case, van Gogh wanted to capture the "absolute restfulness" of his bedroom.
  • You can exaggerate and push certain elements in your painting to promote a certain theme. Van Gogh pushed the awkward perspective and use of color.
  • It is easier to identify errors or inconsistencies in perspective with rigid shapes than it is with organic shapes.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

Happy painting!

Signature Draw Paint Academy

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

32 comments on “A Closer Look at Bedroom in Arles by Vincent Van Gogh”

  1. Thank you for this interpretation! I have always been intrigued by Van Gogh’s Painting style, choice of colors, and mood.

    Reply
  2. Thank you so much for this explanation. I so appreciate all of your write ups and emails. It is very generous of you to share your knowledge.

    Reply
  3. so liked that you tied vincent’s letters into the explanation of the painting. hearing his voice and his thinking on the bedroom painting was helpful to me. this was a painting i’ve scratched my head on many times. really enjoy all that you share.

    Reply
  4. What I found interesting was flipping back and forth between Vincent’s letter to Theo and the painting was how he did not actually use some of the colors he described. The floor, for instance in no way resembles red tile. A couple of other mentions of color also changed, unless the image colors are off on my screen. Rather I think it may show that once an artist begins working, we do not always paint as we may have intended.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for a very precise description of the painting and your assumptions as to the perspectives and colours used within it. Van Gogh gave here three variations of his ideas in paint plus drafts in crayon/chalk, which he had a habit of doing as was his mode of working, obviously experimention in order to achieve the most satisfactory outcome, but in the process effectively created truly unique, individual works in the process.

    Reply
  6. It is so kind of you to share your knowledge. I also wasn’t aware that there were three paintings of the bedroom. I appreciate so much the time you take to help other artists learn.

    Reply
  7. Loved your dissection of Bedroom in Arles. Although I have viewed this painting in print and in person, I saw it in new ways through your eyes, especially the color analysis. Looking forward to visiting Arles in April to view the yellow house, the bedroom, as well as other sites on the trail of Van Gogh.

    Reply
  8. Loved reading Van Gogh’s and your dissection of Bedroom in Arles. Although I have viewed this painting in print and in person, I saw it in new ways through your eyes, especially the color analysis. Looking forward to visiting Arles in April to view the yellow house, the bedroom, as well as other sites on the trail of Van Gogh.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Very interesting. Wonder if you have seen the movie, unbelievable how much work went into it and how all the artist’s reproduced Vincent’s work it was incredible…. looking forward to your next article.

      Reply
  9. thank you so much for the detailed analysis of Van Gogh’s paintings. I found it very interesting especially the point where he explains why he used no shades at all.!!

    Reply
  10. Dan, What an interesting perspective on Van Gogh’s POV. I was mesmerized by your simplistic but right on explanations that make these paintings and drawings so unique. I’ve taken many classes but you have hit the nail on the head

    Reply
  11. Thank you so much for this article. It was very interesting to read and helpful to see the illustrations, letters and renditions. 🙂

    Reply
  12. Dear Dan,

    Thankyou for enabling us to increase our knowledge by so kindly sharing yours. It’s incredible how much you know and I feel very lucky to be able to read your articles.
    Thanks Dan!

    Teresa

    Reply
  13. You are so kind to share all this knowledge. Enjoy using your knowledge to enhance my painting skills. Interesting concept of Van Gough.

    Reply
  14. Thank you for your deft interpretation of Van Gogh’s bedroom; I find your sharings so informative and interesting and appreciate being able to read them.

    Reply
  15. Thank you Dan, for another great lesson in art. I’ve seen Van Gogh’s paintings in Amsterdam, and they were thrilling. This is one of my favourites. Your ideas are helping me to pay more attention to my own art work, thanks for all the inspiration.

    Reply
  16. Thank you for helping to refresh what I learned in History of Art in college many years ago. I’ve always been in awe of Van Gogh for his paintings and how his various moods were revealed through his art. I think you explained it better than my professor had.

    Reply
  17. Dan your analysis of Bedroom painting by Vangogh is excellent. Loved it. thanks for sharing your knowledge. I was not aware of there versions of the painting. The letters are of great help.

    Reply
  18. Well explained ,all the letters, painting without exact perspective ,idea of colors took one to close to the heart and mind of Vangogh through your combine presentation . All the world wide fans of the Great artist will definitely enjoy this.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  19. Very very interesting.

    I know someone who complains about the perspective problems in this painting. It’s good to see that it’s accepted here, and might even add to the painting.

    Reply
  20. i am obsessed with textiles but new to the ‘theory’ of art as it pertains to the breakdown of the elements and principle’s of design so I really appreciated this article. It has helped me write my first essay – using the principle’s and elements of design in comparing Van Gogh’s two paintings; Night Café and Vincent’s bedroom, Thank YOU!!!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

898 Shares
Pin498
Share400