Visual & Decorative Arts Blog

Van Gogh's Letters: The Bedroom

Posted by Esme Chapman

Van Gogh The Bedroom resized 600Throughout his life Van Gogh wrote many letters to his friends, family and fellow artists. In these letters he often discussed his own artworks, and one such example regards Van Gogh’s 1888 oil painting The Bedroom, which he discusses in a letter to his brother Theo, shown below:

Extract from Arles, 16 October 1888

"My dear Theo,

At last I can send you a little sketch […] 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 squareness 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.”


The Artist's Intention

It is no small wonder that illustrated art books on Van Gogh's paintings are extremely popular, but his letters also deserve a look as they give us a fantastic and unique insight into the motivation behind his works. In this letter Van Gogh reveals his intention that looking at the picture should rest the viewer's brain and imagination.

Van Gogh was a master of colour; here he used it to create a scene that is bright and sunny, yet simultaneously restful and peaceful owing to the simplicity of composition, line and the lack of shadow. Next time I feel a little sleep deprived but don’t have time for a power nap, gazing on this painting for a couple of minutes should do the trick!


  • Learn more about Van Gogh here 

  • Learn about the restoration of The Bedroom here

  • Check out more Van Gogh masterpieces on the Flame Tree Pinterest board here

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Topics: Vincent van Gogh, Masterpieces of Art, Art Calendars

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