In Brief

Van Gogh’s 128-Year-Old Bed May Rest in a Dutch Village

While researching his latest van Gogh book, scholar Martin Bailey tried to track down the yellow bed the artist famously painted and developed an alternate theory as to why he sliced his ear.

Vincent van Gogh, "Bedroom in Arles" (1888) (image via Wikipedia)
Vincent van Gogh, “Bedroom in Arles” (1888) (image via Wikipedia)

The famous double bed depicted in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of his bedroom in Arles may reside in the Dutch town of Boxmeer, having moved from France to the Netherlands as a donation for World War II victims. Its alleged location was pinned down by van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, who says he found clues  in a previously unpublished letter from 1937.

The document, as Bailey recalls for The Art Newspaper (TAN)was penned by van Gogh’s nephew in response to Fernand Benoît, a curator who was attempting to convert the artist’s Yellow House into a museum (he never succeeded). Benoît had previously contacted Vincent Willem van Gogh asking to borrow some paintings; in his reply, Vincent Willem had written, “I could give you the bed which appears in the painting of the bedroom.”

The bedroom in a 1888 sketch to Gauguin (image via Wikipedia)
The bedroom in a 1888 sketch sent to Gauguin (image via Wikipedia)

Last year, Bailey contacted and met Vincent Willem’s son, Johan van Gogh, in the Netherlands. The painter’s 93-year-old descendent told him that his father had donated the bed to victims of WWII residing in the eastern Netherlands in 1945, one year after Allied bombs struck the Yellow House. The bed, Bailey writes, then likely travelled about 25 miles to Boxmeer as another gift to the less fortunate. Photographs of the donation truck that may have transported it survive today, but whether the bed itself does is still a mystery.

“It could be that the bed is thrown away when [its owner] got better in the ’50s and ’60s,” Bailey told Dutch public broadcasting company NOS. “So I do not want to be too optimistic. But it could just be that the bed is still there, and it can be found somewhere in that region.”

According to the British historian, the artist had purchased the yellow-framed bed in 1888, the same year he finished the first version of the famed painting. It had cost him 150 francs, which was equal then to about 10 months’ rent.

“The fact it was a double bed suggests that Van Gogh had a lingering hope that he might eventually share it with a woman,” Bailey writes for TAN. “Ensconced in the first comfortable home of his own as an adult, he proudly completed a picture of his newly furnished bedroom. ‘The most beautiful paintings are those one dreams of while smoking a pipe in one’s bed,’ he wrote. It was there that he conceived some of his finest works.”

Bailey’s revelation is part of his new book Studio of the South. It includes yet another van Gogh theory related to the artist’s ear incident, which has remained in headlines since 1888: that the artist sliced off his organ not because of a fight with Paul Gauguin — as popularly accepted — but after he received word that his brother Theo was about to marry. As part of his research for his book, Bailey came across another letter from Theo that delivered the upsetting news and dates to December 23, 1888 — the day van Gogh took a knife to his ear. The artist allegedly feared that the marriage would weaken his close relationship with his brother.

We may never know if the bed from the famous paintings still exists today, but we have at least a remnant of the famous ear — thanks to an artist who used DNA samples from a distant relative of van Gogh’s to create a 3D-printed version.

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