'The colour has to do the job here'

The Bedroom

In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh described his intention in this painting:

This time it’s simply my bedroom, but the colour has to do the job here, and through its being simplified by giving a grander style to things, to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In short, looking at the painting should rest the mind, or rather, the imagination.

Letter to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 16 October 1888.

The letter listed the colours used:

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.

Letter to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 16 October 1888.


Today, the walls and doors in the painting are no longer light purple, but blue. Likewise, the floor is no longer red, but pale purple-grey. Since the painting was first made, it has become discoloured.

Van Gogh liked to work with colour contrasts, especially between complementary colours. In this painting, the green windows contrast with the red bedspread, and the yellow bed with the purple door. The colours make each other stronger and create an overall balance. The colour reconstruction shows that this combination has a peaceful effect, exactly as Van Gogh intended.

With thanks to:

Roy S. Berns

Munsell Color Science Laboratory

Rochester Institute of Technology, U.S.A.