Vincent's Virtue: The Wonder of the Everyday


Van Gogh must have really liked his bedroom. He painted it three times that we know of, and made two sketches. He sent one sketch to his brother Theo, and the other to Paul Gauguin. They were both included in letters. We also know from these letters that Vincent composed the paintings during a time of illness when he was bedridden for days.

Vincent Van Gogh, "The Bedroom at Arles" 

Vincent Van Gogh, "The Bedroom at Arles" 

However, even when he’s supposed to be resting, he is painting his bed, rather than sleeping in it. Like a child straining the rules to literal absurdity, you can almost hear him say to his brother, “I am resting. This is how I rest…I’m painting rest.”

The world seen through Vincent’s eyes vibrates with life and color. Accuracy and scale weren’t as important as capturing the spirit of the moment.  Whether he was painting field workers, sunflowers, cathedrals or cafés, he’s completely wrapped up in feeling, experiencing and communicating the scene before him.

His works draw me into a place of worship through their communication of the immediacy of the moment.

Vincent isn’t just painting a bed, two chairs, a table and a window, he seems to be painting their essence, what they symbolize. To him, the painting isn’t just about the objects, it’s how they will make the viewer feel when they look at them.

In his letter to Theo he writes,

This time it's just simply my bedroom, only here colour is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.

The walls are pale violet. The floor is of red tiles.

The wood of the bed and chairs is the yellow of fresh butter, the sheets and pillows very light greenish-citron.

The coverlet scarlet. The window green.

The toilet table orange, the basin blue.

The doors lilac.

And that is all - there is nothing in this room with its closed shutters.

The squareness of the furniture again must express inviolable rest. Portraits on the walls, and a mirror and a towel and some clothes.

The frame - as there is no white in the picture - will be white.

This by way of revenge for the enforced rest I was obliged to take.

In November 2002, I travelled to India for the first time. After 20+ hours of flying, the small group of 5 from my church arrived in Delhi, slept for 4 hours, and then boarded an early train to Bhopal. The sun was rising as we made our way through the Indian countryside, illuminating everything with a rich golden glow, the same golden light that infused Van Gogh’s world.

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep and strange new conditions, but during that train ride I felt as though my eyes were opened. As I looked at the villages, fields, and pastel-colored buildings I saw India as it was, broken and beautiful, and I felt the love of Christ for this country and its inhabitants. For just a moment, the veil of the physical was torn aside and I saw India with my heart open.

I think this is how Van Gogh must have seen the world all the time. At least, that’s how I feel when I look at The Bedroom at Arles.

I have a print of this painting in my home. It’s nothing fancy. I bought it from, and it’s encased in a rough wood frame I found at A.C. Moore. However, when I look at it I’m reminded of the sacredness of the present moment. That every moment, no matter how mundane or ordinary is meaningful.

I need this encouragement when my life feels dull or dark. When the bills seem overwhelming or my heart feels heavy after seeing another terrible event in the news.  I forget that there is meaning in the everyday moments. I need to remember that I will be glorious someday, and the Father sees me as glorious now.

Vincent’s lavender-walled bedroom reminds me of this.

- Amy Courage, Highrocker

About: Amy Courage lives in Salem, MA with her husband, artist George Courage and two precocious cats. She studied English Language and Literature and Theatre Arts at Gordon College. Please visit Amy at The Daily Mermaid, where she writes about art, mermaids and picture books.