When Vincent Van Gogh settled into his Yellow House in Arles in the south of France, he finally had a house and bedroom of his own. The artist was so taken with having his own space that over the course of a year, he painted three different versions of his bedroom. Now, for the first time in North American history, all three paintings are together under one roof at the Art Institute of Chicago for a special exhibit running through May 10.
Van Gogh’s Bedrooms is the first exhibit to focus solely on Van Gogh's bedroom paintings. The exhibit delves into how the painter expressed his personal connection to his small, colorful room and takes an in-depth look into his artistic process. Visitors will get closer than ever to the three world-famous paintings: After they view 36 drawings, letters and paintings from Van Gogh’s personal repertoire, guests can walk across a to-scale blueprint of the second story of the Yellow House and peek into a sculptural representation of the bedroom itself.
"You also get to look at letters from Van Gogh talking about the room, what it feels like to live in it, what he hopes it to look like and what he’s doing to get the house ready in terms of this ideal family home he’s hoping to build," Amanda Hicks, Director of Public Affairs at the Art Institute, told Smithsonian.com.
To Van Gogh, home represented permanence, community and creativity. "I can already see the goal—to have the means of having a roof over my head for a very long time," he wrote to his brother Theo in September 1888, about four months after moved in to the Yellow House. "You won't believe how much that calms me; I have such a passion to make an artist's house."
Visitors can't walk through the recreation of the room in the museum; rather, they peer through a fine mesh barrier in different locations and see pages from Van Gogh’s letters and sketchbooks digitally displayed against the walls of the bedroom. An unscreened viewing space stands at one end of the room—from there, viewers can get the exact perspective and view depicted in the paintings.
"It’s in the round in the middle of a gallery space," Hicks said. "Visitors are immersed in the space and get a sense of what was happening in the physical realm of the room."
On either side of the room installation, touchscreens give visitors an opportunity to virtually place the three paintings side by side and note their differences. With each pinch and zoom, more information about Van Gogh’s process and artistic style is revealed.
But why stop there? Those in search of an even more personal experience can spend the night in an exact AirBNB room replica of Van Gogh’s second bedroom painting. The room, which was decorated by the Art Institute in conjunction with the exhibit, recreates everything about the painting, from the towel on the wall to the chairs on the floor. Even the walls and ceiling mirror the original artwork—so much so that pictures of the rental don’t look real. You'll have to be fast—and lucky—to stay in the room: At only $10 per night, slots fill up quickly. (The Art Institute's Facebook and Instagram pages announce available dates regularly.)
Whether you discover Van Gogh's rooms through the exhibit, stay at the AirBNB replica, or simply dream of inhabiting the paintings, it's easy to get absorbed by paintings of the room Van Gogh decorated 128 years ago. The love he felt for his Yellow House shines through all three of his paintings—and both installations help art lovers see exactly why.