Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at the Art Institute of Chicago Today

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We went to the Art Institute of Chicago today, with every single other resident of Illinois it seemed, so I didn’t get a single picture of the bedrooms he painted due to the crowds in front of them. But, I did get a few insights into Van Gogh’s life which I’d only read about before in Irving Stone’s biography of him, Lust For Life.

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The museum portrayed a Van Gogh whose heart’s desire was for a home of his own, and this yellow house in Arles was the closest he ever got.

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The letters he wrote to his brother, Theo, were as special to me as the paintings. I have an abiding fascination in the written word, of course, but seeing Vincent’s handwriting and sketches brought his life into special focus for me. I am filled with sorrow that handwritten letters have become so obsolete. Will museums put emails that have been printed in between panes of glass as the only artifacts of correspondence available some day?

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This painting, with some stranger’s nose in the lower corner, was a particular favorite of my mother’s. It is the entrance to a park at Arles, which Van Gogh painted in a realistic fashion while his friend, Gaugin, advocated the use of imagination. I have no way to describe to you the intensity of color, the vibrancy of his paintbrush strokes, which made purchasing anything from the museum store unworthy.

 

I said farewell to the lions on either side of the museum entrance, glad for the exposure to beautiful art. Glad for the knowledge that Van Gogh loved painting, but also the works of Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant.

He must not have been entirely crazy.

 

 

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28 thoughts on “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at the Art Institute of Chicago Today”

  1. While I agree that no museum gift shop purchase can rival the paintings themselves, I really do recommend the substantial, well-researched and beautiful catalog which accompanied the exhibit, “Van Gogh and Nature.”

    As for the immediacy of letters, I wholly agree. It’s such a terrible, terrible error for schools around the country to be discontinuing the teaching of cursive writing. While we may be keyboarding our way through life these days, children increasingly are being cut off from their past, and the legacy they deserve. Ah, me.

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    1. Linda, I am the only teacher, the only one in our building of 800 students, who teaches cursive. To me, it is one of the marks of an educated person. My children take great pride in writing cursive, and you would be encouraged to know that their parents agree with us. Most of them thank me for teaching cursive, which encourages me.

      As for the catalog, thank you. I love buying things from museum stores, it’s only after immediately leaving the exhibit that they pale in comparison.

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    1. I was in Arles as a child, but I didn’t see any of Van Gogh’s work then. It all had to do with an involved escapade in which the keys were locked in the car and the mechanics were on lunch. For two others three hours. But, I’m glad I saw them yesterday, and I’m glad you saw them in San Francisco. No duplicate can do the original justice; they were the most vibrant paintings I’ve ever seen.

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    1. I’m especially interested in your link after reading Scott’s comments (below) about their correspondence being some of the best he’s read. Thank you! Now if only our library has it, or else onto the wish list it goes.

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  2. I saw his letters in his own museum in Amsterdam back in December and I was intriguided by how coherent and nostalgic he actually seemed, glad you experienced this, too 🙂

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    1. The only museum I’ve been to in Amsterdam is Anne Frank’s. How beautiful Van Gogh’s must have been! I never saw his handwriting before yesterday, which is as clear and bright as his paintings. The museum did a lovely thing with their guided audio tour; a male voice depicting Van Gogh’s read the correspondence bits as if he was really talking to us. It was very powerful.

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  3. I have always loved Van Goghs’ paintings and was so fortunate to see an exhibit of some of his pieces at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena many years ago. I’m glad you and your mom got to spend some time at this exhibit, in spite of the crowds. In addition to The Agony and the Ecstasy, I have a copy of Lust for Life, but have never read it. Maybe this is the nudge I needed!

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    1. I cannot recommend The Agony and The Ecstasy enough, I’ve read it twice over the years, in fact. Lust for Life is just as good in bringing the men to life. (It’s just that I like Michelangelo better.) Also, The Moon and Sixpence gives Gaugin’s story a reality I won’t forget, and I read that in the 70’s. 😉

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      1. I have my grandmother’s hardcover copy of The Agony and the Ecstasy, Meredith. I think she gave it to me when I was taking an art history course many years ago. I was so excited about all the wonderful works of art I was discovering in my studies and I have enjoyed visiting many art museums over the years. However, I still need to make a trip to Chicago!

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  4. Sounds like a wonderful trip to the museum. I’ve only been to the Art Institute once, but truly enjoyed it. Such a great place to visit! And this exhibit sounds terrific (even with all the crowds). I love that letter you shared with us. I think its so cool he included a sketch in it. I’m with you, its sad to see that letter writing has gone to the wayside. I remember writing letters to my best friend throughout school when she moved away in elementary school. We kept in touch that way until college. And then in college and grad school I had a pen pal, which I loved hearing from. Now, my friend Kris and I send each other emails that are similar to twenty page letters. We describe everything and everyone around us, including what’s been happening in our lives. I have to admit that even though its in email form, it really does feel like an old fashioned letter. He’s in Thailand now, so emails are definitely an easier form of communication. But, I do sometimes miss opening the mail and receiving a letter in it. As for van Gogh, my favorite of his is Cafe Terrace at Night, because one of my oldest friends and I envisioned sitting in a cafe like that in Paris one day and fell in love with the image. A friend of mine visited his museum in Amsterdam and absolutely loved it. She said it was her favorite part of the trip. Looking at your photos makes me want to head out to a museum 🙂

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    1. Reading your comment makes me want to re-establish pen pals! I remember the joy of opening a real letter, just for me, the scent and the feel were as meaningful as the message sometimes.

      My first husband, who died in 97, wrote me an abundance of letters while he lived in Germany. It’s interesting how our son writes exactly like him, they are such a pair even though his father is now gone. I think a huge piece of ourselves is reflected in our writing, both the physical letter formation as well as the content.

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  5. Love Van Gogh’s paintings, and his letters almost as much, maybe more so. I have a beautiful volume of his letters, with illustrations of the actual letters and his drawings in them. I always find inspiration from Van Gogh, his work and his words.

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    1. This is so fascinating to me how many of the comments, from people I greatly admire, show an interest in the letters. I must make myself more aware of their content. How lovely that you already have a volume of them!

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  6. The letters between Vincent and Theo rank among my favorite things I’ve ever read. You can’t read just one. They go on and on and on, beautifully and movingly, and certain lines from them have lodged in my head and stayed there since I read them a quarter century ago.

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    1. That is some statement, Scott, that they are amongst the best things you’ve ever read. I’m thinking you read them in French, too, which I was only able to do with some degree of accuracy while at the Art Institute because my French has long been out of use. (The last time I used it was when I bought my wedding dress in Paris, but that was fifteen years ago now.)

      An idea is hatching for the upcoming Paris in July, assuming Tamara will host it again. Do you have a particular volume that you suggest?

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  7. Lucky you! It must have been a great exhibit.
    I loved the Art Institute when I went ot Chicago. They have the best Impressionist collection after the one in Paris. (Musée d’Orsay)

    PS: I’ve heard that learning how to write in cursive is good for the brain. Keep going.

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    1. They do have a fabulous Impressionist collection, from Chagall to Monet and all the ones in between. I loved Paris’ Jeu de Paume museum, but that has been gone for quite some time. All I have of that visit is a framed poster in my bedroom, since the museum no longer exists.

      And, an article in the Chicago Tribune just last month discussed how businesses are returning to pen and paper to help their employees think and be creative. Apparently we learn better, and produce better, using our brains, ink, and paper. Who knew? 😉

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  8. I imagine seeing his work in person was wonderful.

    I was just talking to my sisters the other day about how much history we have learned from letters. In my experience, people don’t write with as much detail and openness in emails or with social media as they did in letters. I wonder how we will be remembered, or even really known by the generations who will come later.

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    1. I wonder exactly the same thing, how will our times be remembered from now on? You bring up a marvelous point about letters reflecting history. Even my Bible has excerpts from C. S. Lewis’ letters which have proved so valuable in theology.

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  9. Wonderful post, Bellezza! It’s a treat to see you in this post as well!
    I read Lust for Life many years ago, while in middle school, and wrote a book report on it. (I think I was supposed to type it up, but for some reason I wrote it by hand instead.) This artist’s work is extremely vibrant. It took me a few moments to locate the “stranger’s nose” in your photo, as I was so enchanted by the painting. On a different note, I’m glad you’re continuing the tradition of teaching the children how to write “in script”. Hopefully, this personal mode of communication will not become a lost art.

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  10. Thank you so much for this post. I enjoyed seeing the pictures, and reading your observations. As I was reading about pen pals, I was reminded of this little thing I used to do. Since many children don’t have pen pals these days, I used to write to my friends’s children. I named myself ‘Mrs Pooh’, and wrote to them about children’s books I read, and all the tiny, warm things I observed. Although they couldn’t write a lot, their parents read those letter to them, and the children tried writing a couple of paragraphs in every letter. I am not sure how the practice withered. But, that was a great time. 🙂

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  11. I’m glad you’ve a chance to view this wonderful exhibition and appreciate your sharing with us, Bellezza. It’s great that you actually saw the handwritten letters of the artist’s; I’ve only read them in a book. Your post brought back fond memories as I visited Arles with my husband and son just a few years ago.

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  12. His handwriting is beautiful. I saw one of his Sunflower paintings in London a couple of years ago and it just glowed. Sounds like a great day out.

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  13. Oh sounds like a wonderful exhibit. Van Gogh’s paintings are some of my favorites and I would love to see this exhibit. Glad you got to enjoy a day with all that beauty around you!

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  14. Most of what I know of Van Gogh was prompted by reading about him in The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton, and even that was long ago enough to be very foggy, so that I had to go back just now and refresh my mind as to what I had written. Even though his chapter about Van Gogh was about how works of visual art, if we see them beforehand, can enhance our experience of traveling to the places depicted, I found that reading the written word was more stimulating. This was true whether they were the artist’s words or those he was quoting, as I wrote: “This chapter ‘On Eye-Opening Art’ includes many quotes from Van Gogh’s letters, which were for me, trained more in reading than in art, more impressive and evocative than his paintings. De Botton’s eyes began to be opened as he read the artist’s own descriptions of Provence…”

    ….and De Botton’s own descriptions of Provence made me want to go there! Your museum review makes me want to read Lust for Life for starters; I don’t think I had heard of it before. I’m so glad you were able to crowd into the exhibit, and take a picture of the artist’s writing. Another thing you provoke me to do is write a letter today!

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