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Vincent Van Gogh The Bedroom at Arles, c.1887

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Van Gogh painted two versions of this intimate picture, one before and one after his friend, Gaugin's, unsatisfactory visit in 1888. Excited by the prospect of his friend's arrival, he said about his first effort that "I am conceited enough to want to make a certain impression on Gauguin by my painting. I have finished as far as possible the things I have undertaken, pushed by the great desire to show him something new, and not to undergo his influence before I have shown him in disputably my own originality." Ironically perhaps, considering this last point, this second painting was a copy of the first. It could be that Van Gogh was trying to re-live happer times, or at least the initial calm period before his friend's turbulent departure. "To look at the picture," he explained, "ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagionation." Paradoxically the room's very contents - from its wicker furniture to his own paintings hanging on the wall - serve to remind us more keenly of what is not there; namely, its without anything." In fact he believed that the inanimate objects left behind in a person's room adopted their owner's personality, as did the empty room itself.

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