For a man who lived in 37 different residences in 24 cities throughout his life it’s surprising how paintings of one of his bedrooms can command so much attention. However, when you visit the Art Institute of Chicago’s newest exhibit, “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms,” you’ll realize that these paintings reveal as much about the artist as some of his self portraits.
Vincent van Gogh made three paintings of his bedroom in his yellow house in Arles, France, and for the first time in North America all three of those paintings are on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. After being bedridden for a few days Van Gogh decided to paint his bedroom in 1888. After suffering water damage, he decided to do another one of similar size in 1889 while in the asylum at Saint-Rémy. The third one, which is smaller than the other two, was created shortly after the second one as a gift to his mother and sister. When placed next to each other it is hard not to play the game found in so many “Highlights” magazines of looking for the differences in each, and when you do find them you begin to learn so much about Van Gogh.
As if the masterpieces themselves aren’t enough to grab your attention the Art Institute has added interactive elements that make you appreciate the three paintings even more. A reconstruction of his bedroom let’s the visitor stand and see the bedroom through the same perspective as Van Gogh when he painted it. I could’ve spent an hour alone just staring at the reconstructed bedroom and how small it was, how well it depicted the second painting, and how Paul Gauguin, who has staying with Van Gogh at the time, had to go through Van Gogh’s bedroom just to get to his own. In addition to the reconstructed room, there are interactive elements that let you digitally zoom into the paintings to see even more differences and the texture that is common in all of Van Gogh’s paintings.
Often when museums have exhibits highlighting a small number of paintings there tends to be large crowds—no difference here as the Art Institute of Chicago has been setting record attendance with the exhibit—and a lot of people huddled around the specific paintings making it hard to enjoy. However, the Art Institute of Chicago has avoided this by supplementing the three paintings with 36 works from Van Gogh that are just as enthralling as the three paintings. You get to experience a Van Gogh with an Earth-tone color palette from his works from Nuenen, Netherlands where he was influenced by Jean-François Millet, who Van Gogh considered his artistic father. Visitors will notice how that all changes once he arrives in Paris and experiences impressionism and pointillism. You can see him incorporate these ideas in his work in “Parisian Novels.” The true highlight of this section has to be his self-portrait of 1887 where if the beauty of the colors and the expression in his face don’t capture you then at least the texture will have you imagining every stroke he took. A look at “The Night Cafe” along with a recreation of the cafe itself for you to take part in also brings more life and interactivity to the exhibit among countless other items and themes. Don’t plan on making a quick run through this exhibit as Van Gogh’s life will not let you.
“Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” will be on view through May 10 at the Art Institute of Chicago located at 111 S. Michigan Ave. You must buy a separate ticket for the exhibit to view it. For more information visit artic.edu/exhibition/van-goghs-bedrooms.