The current exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago of Van Gogh's Bedrooms just might be the most visited exhibition held there since the hugely popular Monet exhibition in 1995.

I couldn't believe the extremely long line outside the museum waiting to get in.  We were able to bypass this line because I had pre-purchased our tickets, but once inside we were not able to avoid the huge line to get into the exhibition.  I have been to several exhibitions at the Art Institute, but I have never seen such a crowd before. NOTE: we were there on a Saturday; I'm sure weekend days are much less crowded.

We finally entered the exhibition, and were pleasantly surprised non-flash photography was allowed. This must be a new policy. At every other special exhibition I have been to photography wasn't allowed basically because the host museum has the other paintings lent to them for the exhibition and they can't be responsible for them. 

Here are my highlights of the exhibition:

Parisian Novels (1887) 
Private Collection

This painting was the highlight! As it is from someone's private collection I had never seen even a photograph of it. The pink, blue and yellow color palette makes it so recognizable as a Van Gogh masterpiece. It is just a gorgeous painting.

Hospital at St. Rémy (1889)
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles 

This painting is one of two large landscapes showing the trees in the garden and the asylum façade behind them. Consciously or not, Van Gogh used the same color palette for this building as he did in his famous Yellow House (yellow building, green shutters, red roof).

Corner of the Asylum and the Garden with Heavy Sawed-Off Tree (1889)
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Van Gogh used "...a combination of red ocher, of green saddened with grey, of black lines that define the outlines", a combination he believed emphasized the emotional impact of this painting. Van Gogh used his time at the asylum to advance and refine the symbolic power of his painting.

Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles (1888)
Phillips Collection, Washington DC

This painting depicts the view of the public garden located across the street from Van Gogh's yellow house in Arles.

Gauguin's Chair (1888)
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Since photography is not allowed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I didn't have the opportunity to photograph this masterpiece when I visited in 2010.

Van Gogh's Chair (1888)
National Gallery of Art, London, England

Yet another Van Gogh painting I had not seen before. This is the companion painting to the above painting. Van Gogh painted both during the few weeks he and Gauguin lived and painted together in Arles.

Houses at  Auvers (1890)
Toledo Museum of Art

I remember seeing this painting during my visit to the Toledo Museum of Art. Working in a hamlet in the western part of Auvers, Van Gogh painted this small cluster of dwellings nestled among the walled gardens and trees.  He varied his brushstrokes in order to call attention to difference between the tiled roof and the other thatched roofs.

View of the Asylum with a Pine Tree
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

I don't recall seeing this painting during my visit to the Musée d'Orsay several years ago.  It is one of dozens of works Van Gogh painted while sitting in the gardens of the asylum in St. Remy.

Eugene Boch
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Van Gogh wanted to decorate the walls of the Yellow House with portraits. Boch was a Belgian impressionist painter and one of the few friends Van Gogh met while in Arles.

Self-Portrait (1889)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Van Gogh painted this self-portrait while in the asylum. None of the other patients were willing to sit as a model for him. He is posed in this way because his left ear was disfigured from his self-mutilation the previous December.

Then, of course, there were the three "Bedrooms":

The Bedroom (October 16-17, 1888)
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh painted this first version to decorate the Yellow House in anticipation of the arrival of Gauguin to Arles. Note that the two portraits I posted above are included in this painting on the right wall above the bed.

The Bedroom (September 5, 1889)
Art Institute of Chicago

The second version was painted while Vincent was a patient at the asylum in St. Rémy.  The first painting had been slightly damaged in a flood in Arles; Van Gogh's brother, Theo, thought Vincent should make another copy before repairs were made to first painting in case something bad occurred. Note how Van Gogh changed the portraits hanging above the bed.

The Bedroom (September 28, 1889)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent explained what had inspired him to paint these pictures: he wanted to express the tranquility, and bring out the simplicity of his bedroom using the symbolism of colors. The bright colours were meant to express absolute ‘repose’ or ‘sleep’. Thus, he described: "the pale, lilac walls, the uneven, faded red of the floor, the chrome-yellow chairs and bed, the pillows and sheet in very pale lime green, the blood-red blanket, the orange-colored wash stand, the blue wash basin, and the green window", stating "I wanted to express absolute repose with these different colors".  Van Gogh's three versions of this composition are the only record he made of the interior of the Yellow House.

Van Gogh's Bedrooms is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago until May 10. For more information, click here.

Thank you for visiting.

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All photos were taken by me at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

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