Bedroom secrets. Rediscover Vincent van Gogh's The bedroom

3 - 19 September 2010

The bedroom, one of Vincent van Gogh’s best loved works, has undergone detailed restoration over the last six months. Until 19 September, the painting can be seen in the presentation Bedroom secrets, which explains the process of restoration and its results.

The process proved to be a veritable voyage of discovery for the restorer. After removal of the old and discoloured layers of varnish and retouching work, the result is a painting with crisp and intensely bright colours.

Vincent van Gogh worked on this painting of his bedroom during the period in which he lived in the yellow house in Arles. He selected his composition and the colours extremely carefully and his letters show that he was very pleased with the result. In a letter to Theo, Van Gogh describes the colours that he had carefully selected for The bedroom:

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.
The frame — as there’s no white in the painting — will be white.

(Letter from Vincent to Theo, Arles, Tuesday 16 October 1888

The restoration also revealed that certain colours in the painting have been changed forever. Around the edges of the painting and underneath previous filling and retouching work, traces of the original colours were discovered. These have retained their colour because they were less exposed to daylight. For example, the walls and doors were originally lilac in colour, a fact that Van Gogh also mentions in his letters. Traces have now been found during restoration that confirm this to be true. In the future, the Van Gogh Museum intends to conduct further research into the discoloration of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings.

Fascinating details
The removal of the layer of varnish has brought to light a number of fascinating details. For example, light entering the room through the slightly opened shutters can now be seen on the floor. In the red bedspread and on the bed and chairs, traces of newsprint have been found. Even during Van Gogh’s life, the painting became damaged by damp in his studio. To prevent the paint from flaking, Van Gogh stuck newspapers over the canvas and intended to have his brother Theo line the work (adhere a new canvas onto the reverse) to reinforce it. Research on the painting showed that this was indeed done and that the painting was relined again and extensively restored in 1931. It also emerged that during the 1931 restoration a small strip of the painting was folded over the left side of the stretcher, making it hard to read the clearly open door originally painted by Van Gogh.

The bedroom before restoration
Before restoration. View enlargement
The bedroom after restoration
After restoration. View enlargement

In recent months, it has been possible to follow the restoration on the blog The completion of the restoration also features in the blog.

Guided Tours
During the presentation Bedroom secrets, there are free guided tours in English every day at 16:00. Reservations are not necessary for the guided tours.
Please note: the guided tour on Sunday 5 September has been cancelled.

From 1 October 2010, the painting will be in Japan for the exhibition Van Gogh: The adventure of becoming an artist, which is curated by both the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum.

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