Van Gogh’s Bedrooms and the Chicago Art Institute

As I’ve grown up, I’ve started to develop an interest in museums and art galleries. Art doesn’t come naturally to me, and I never feel like I’ve properly understood art (modern art in particular), but it still inspires me. The Art Institute of Chicago has an outstanding and diverse collection. I’d love to go see it every time I visit my dad, but unlike London where museums & galleries ask for a donation, the Art Institute is $25 for out-of-state visitors. Ouch. But this time, they had a special collection featuring all three versions of Van Gogh’s famous bedroom painting. Plus, I had gotten in for free on my last visit, so I felt obliged.

Van Gogh has been my favorite painter since I was a star-obsessed teenager and my mom gave me a famed print of Starry Night as my 16th birthday present. I still have it hanging up, but as I’ve now developed an appreciation for his other works as well. I’d read good reviews of the exhibition, so expectations were high. Happily, I wasn’t disappointed. All 6 rooms were excellent.

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It opened with a timeline, then continued to focus on Van Gogh’s homes and interests. Did you know he and his brother collected Japanese woodblock prints and that Toulouse-Lautrec would come over and look through them? I had no idea. I also had no idea he took an interest in books (the painting above was one of my favourites), or that he did pen and ink sketches as well. It was nice to see some works I’d never seen, alongside a couple I was familiar with (one from the National Gallery, and the self-portrait I’d seen on a previous visit). The lifesize staging of the bedroom was definitely one of the highlights, too. It sounds like he made many of his paintings as decorations for his home – can you imagine putting that much work into your house?

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But the real highlight was the final room, where you could see all three next to each other. There were displays set up where you could use a raking light to show the texture of each canvas, all next to each other. It was wonderful to see the three compared – it really showed his development as a painter.

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I spent about 2 hours in the exhibition before I went into the rest of the museum. I started with the Thorne Miniature Rooms, also a favourite of Wes Anderson’s, then went off to look at the modern American paintings, which include lots of Georgia O’Keeffee as well as the famous American Gothic & Nighthawks. I didn’t take pictures of those last two as it just didn’t seem like there was any point; photos rarely do justice to paintings, and those two are so iconic I didn’t want to bother trying.

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This post is definitely not comprehensive, either. I was in the museum for 5 hours! All in all, I’d definitely encourage you to visit if you have a chance. You’re bound to find a new (or old) favourite.

Do you have a museum or gallery you always try to visit, or a particular artist who would tempt you to go specially?

 

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