Would you like summat from the trolley?

The Bedroom, Vincent Van Gogh
Those lovely people at the Van Gogh Museum have kindly published a set of behind the scenes photos of their restoration work on Mr Vincent’s The Bedroom. This is one of my favourite paintings and I first saw it nearly thirty years ago and have been back several times since. The first version of The Bedroom was painted, like the others in Arles in 1888. Vincent got all excited by the impending arrival of Paul Gaugin and was, I understand, working hard to finish the canvass before Gaugin arrived. In a letter to Theo Van Gogh, Vincent beautifully describes the painting:

“This time it’s simply my bedroom, but the colour has to do the job here, and through its being simplified by giving a grander style to things, to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In short, looking at the painting should rest the mind, or rather, the imagination
The walls are of a pale violet. The floor — is of red tiles.
The bedstead and the chairs are fresh butter yellow.
The sheet and the pillows very bright lemon green.
The bedspread scarlet red.
The window green.
The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.
And that’s all — nothing in this bedroom, with its shutters closed.

The solidity of the furniture should also now express unshakeable repose.
Portraits on the wall, and a mirror and a hand-towel and some clothes.
The frame — as there’s no white in the painting — will be white.
This to take my revenge for the enforced rest that I was obliged to take.
I’ll work on it again all day tomorrow, but you can see how simple the idea is. The shadows and cast shadows are removed; it’s coloured in flat, plain tints like Japanese prints.”

The term is now much overused but ‘iconic’ this painting was for Vincent and for the viewer it perhaps evokes the comfort and simple enjoyment we get from our most private space, our bedroom. A place of solace and escape where we are surrounded by things we love and can spend time away from the world to become refreshed and renewed.

He made three versions of the painting. The first (pictured above) is now being restored at its home in Amsterdam. The second version now lives at the Art Institute of Chicago. It is larger than the other two and I saw this about ten years ago. The third, which now lives at the Musee d’Orsay, I first saw when it lived at the old Jeu de Paume gallery one sultry August day when, in the searing heat of that naturally ventilated Salon, it was easy to experience the climatic conditions in which the canvass was painted.  How astonished would Vincent be to know where his three ‘Bedrooms’ have ended up. How lucky am I to have seen all three and love them still. What I wouldn’t give to have a push of that trolley.

Note to self
Do not keep six week old 90% empty bottles of wine in the fridge. More importantly, do not keep freshly opened bottles alongside them.

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