We took the train into the City to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute. It is the first time all three of the artist's paintings of his bedroom in his Yellow House in Arles have been shown together. Since I have no plans to visit either Amsterdam or Paris any time soon, I couldn't miss the opportunity to see them here in Chicago.
Van Gogh was a melancholic whose short, troubled life was haunted by transience and mental illness. When he rented four rooms in a yellow house in Arles, his letters to his brother about his plans to decorate them were full of expectation and a child-like hope. He thought carefully about what kind of wood the furniture would be made of in each of the two bedrooms: elegant walnut for his friend, Gaugin, and something more humble for himself--a sturdy white bed and rush bottom chairs. The small rooms would be stuffed with paintings, the white-washed walls painted. He hoped that other friends would visit and that his little house might become something of a studio for like-minded artists.
But his dream fell flat. He argued with Gaugin, he cut off his own ear and his life spiraled to a tragic end.
The poignancy of Van Gogh's life is subtly conveyed throughout the course of the exhibit, and by the time I reached the finale where each of his bedroom paintings hung side-by-side on an otherwise blank wall, I carried a residue of grief for the poor man. The "if only" and "too bads" trailed me out the door of the museum and into the street.
Still, I am glad to know that at least once in his life, Vincent Van Gogh found a place to call his own, and that he shared it with us.