One of the best-loved works in Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre is The bedroom. It was painted in October 1888, when the artist was living in the Yellow House in Arles. To give his brother Theo an impression of the painting he was working on, Van Gogh sent him a letter with a detailed sketch. A day later he also sent a sketch to his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin.

He put a great deal of thought into the composition and the colours, and we know from his letters that he was very pleased with the result. ‘But the colour has to do the job here,’ he wrote, ‘and through its being simplified by giving a grander style to things, to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general’.

Vincent van Gogh considered The bedroom an important painting. In early 1889, Van Gogh returned home from the hospital in Arles. He had been admitted there after his psychological crisis and the injury to his ear. As he wrote to Theo, ‘When I saw my canvases again after my illness, what seemed to me the best was the bedroom.’

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), The bedroom, 1888, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 91.4 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
The bedroom

Sketch sent by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo in a letter of 16 October 1888
Sketch of The bedroom for Theo van Gogh

Letter from Vincent to his brother Theo, Arles, 16 October 1888: ‘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.’ Sketch by Van Gogh in a letter of 17 October 1888 to Paul Gauguin. Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Letter from Van Gogh to his brother Theo, 16 October 1888Sketch of The bedroom sended to Paul Gauguin

Three versions of The Bedroom

Van Gogh later made two other versions. While he was away from home, the painting suffered water damage. Vincent asked Theo to have it lined (that is, attached to a new canvas for reinforcement). But Theo returned it to him, telling him to make a copy first for safety’s sake. In September 1889, Vincent produced a second version of the painting, which is now on display in Chicago. That same month, he also made a smaller copy for his mother and his sister Wil. This third version can now be found in Paris.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), The bedroom, September 1889 The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Second version of The bedroom
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), The bedroom, September 1889 Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Third version of The bedroom