This will give you the background to Vincent's bedroom, which we feel makes quite an interesting story. As with any project of this nature inspiration was the driving force to producing it. But it took a year from start to seeing the finished article photographed.
Vincent moved to the 'Yellow House' in Arles (shown below), in the South of France, late in the summer of 1888. With money from his brother Theo, Vincent furnished the house with local country furniture. He also furnished a spare bedroom, for the artist Gauguin, who later joined him there briefly (at Theo's insistance). Vincent hoped that they could establish an artist's colony in Arles. This was a period of great hope and emotional stability for Van Gogh.
Even from the start Vincent was clear about how he wanted his bedroom to look, and the house in general, it seemed to fire his spirit. He wrote frequetly about the room, because he knew he was he was creating something not seen before. He even described in detail the individual pieces........
"I want to make it really an artist's house - not precious, but everything
from the chairs to the pictures frames having character"
"I have bought big country beds, that give the appearance of solidity, durability and quiet".
"There will be my bedroom, which I want extremely simple, but with large, solid furniture....."
It is worth quoting this letter from vincent which shows his thinking for the
"This time it is just simply my bedroom, only here color is to do everything, and giving by it's 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.
In a letter to his sister, Wilhelmina, he wrote ( while a copy of the
painting of the bedroom was on it's way to her ),
"You will probably think the interior, an empty bedroom with a wooden bedstead, the most unbeautiful thing of all - and notwithstanding that I have painted it twice on a large scale".
"This afternoon I finished the canvas representing the bedroom.....the workmanship is.....virile and simple. No stippling, no hatching, nothing, only flat colours in harmony.
Well I enormously enjoyed doing this interior of nothing at all, of a Suerat-like simplicity: with flat tints, but brushed on roughly, with a thick impasto."
The bedroom was painted after 2 -3 weeks of intense mental and physical activity, when he worked on the house and decoration till he collapsed in exhaustion. On his recovery he started the first painting of the bedroom.
The failure of Van Gogh's 'studio of the south' is well known. Gauguin
and Vincent clashed many times, the last being the cause of Vincent's
infamous self mutilation of his ear. The mental illness that led to this
caused him to fear madness the rest of his days. The painting of his bedroom
is linked with his need for the 'stability, durability, quiet and rest' of
his life before the onset of illness. It played a mental role in his failed
attempts at recovery.
"When I saw my canvases after my illness, the one that seemed the best to me was the bedroom".
This last quote was written just before the police locked the yellow house, fearing for Van Gogh's sanity, and essentially he was banished from Arles. He died in the bed in 1890. A sad end to a simple dream.
As a footnote; Vincents' comments about his room earlier, echo those of William Morris, and very close to the writings of the English designer CFA Voysey, writing a decade later while promoting the idealism of the Arts & Crafts movement. Voysey was enormously influential on later architects and designers.
Van Gogh must be seen as part of a wider movement looking forward to a more humane and socialist future for the working classes. It is interesting to speculate on any possible influence from Wm Morris ( remember Van Gogh lived in London for a year and a half in 1873 ). Vincent always remained interested in the lot of the working classes, and sought to capture the simplicity of their lives and give it dignity in his paintings.
Vincent chose plain, unpainted furniture, with the idea of decorating it and the room as one. In total, Vincent did 2 sketches and 3 paintings of the bedroom, all of the same format.
There is a very special 'feel' to bedroom ; it has been described as like an empty stage set, with entrances to right and left. The feel is due in part to the unreal lighting - the room looks almost like a cartoon. The reason is there are no shadows in the room. Vincent like many of the artistic community in Europe, were enthralled by the quality of Japanese prints, which had never been seen before and which were sweeping across Europe. He started to supress shadows in his work to emulate japanese prints.
In recreating Vincents bedroom we tried to capture the same cartoon like, almost surreal, quality , to get close to the paintings; rather than build the room exactly as it was. We wanted to achieve a painterly effect.
Colourwise, apart from the black and white in the painting, all the other colours are mid-tone.Vincent achieved 4 sets of complimentary colours in the room. He essentially treated the room as a canvas and the furniture as flat blocks of colour in harmony. The painting of the bedroom is somewhere between dream and reality.
The other most noticeable element of the painting that people notice is the whole perspective, which is almost disturbing. Visually, the floor rises uncomfortably towards the back wall. The bed in particular looks oddly proportioned. The bed end closest to the the viewer has the proportion of a single bed, while the headboard end has the proportion of a double bed. The bed was in fact a double one, but most of us see it in the painting as a single, so we made it as a single. We can quite happily make it as a double or kingsize, we have shown how it would look as a double below.
We've shown a double version of the bed above, so you can see how this would look, as it's mainly made as a double bed.
The bed side rail looks telescoped towards us; if the perspective were correct the bed would be 9' or 10' long !. Also, the right hand leg of the headboard is 2' - 3' from the wall, but the left leg looks only inches from the wall !. The chairs are noticeably ill proportioned, the walls are visually splayed out and the floor, at the front of the picture, appears curved, forming an arc between the bed and the chair.
There were however good reasons for these effects. In reality, the back wall of the room receded at a sharp angle into the right hand corner. There were two doors into the room. More importantly, Vincent tried, and achieved, a very tight use of vertical and horizontal lines within the picture, sometimes at the expense of a good perspective. We have also shown you a CAD design of the view looking towards the back of the room, showing the position of Vincent's easel when painting the room ( curtesy of Peter Clements ).
One of the most difficult aspects of trying to recreate this roomset was this strange perspective. We actually made two models of the roomset, and photographed them from the same angle as the viewpoint in the paintings, to get the correct layout and proportions.
Refering back to the optimism with which Vincent painted the bedroom, there are other clues to this reflected in the painting. Vincent, as we have said, was hopeful of being joined by another at the Yellow House. Mentally he introduced many pairs of items into the painting; there are two chairs,2 pillows, 2 pitchers, 2 bottles, 2 doors, etc. Interestingly, Vincent had intended to paint the bed with either a nude woman or a child in a cradle.
Apart from being a brilliant piece of art, the interior itself is superb and the reason for doing this interior. The pared down almost spartan simplicity of the interior space, the elegant solid painted country furniture and the colour scheme are all very contemporary elements in interiors today.
The aim of doing this interior was to show that it could be recreated in any house today, and would look wonderful. We have even shown the roomset in different contemporary colour combinations, on another page. The cost of recreating this style of interior need not be excessive either; apart from a few pieces of furniture which we would supply, the rest is quite reasonable and easy to achieve.
The Philadelphia Museum Of Art asked to exhibit our Van Gogh bedroom for their major American exhibtion of the artists' work. Shown in the photograph above. They didn't try to recreate the whole roomset.