Empty chairs had a very personal significance for Van Gogh, who appears to have associated objects strongly with people. Legend has it that the young Van Gogh cried out at the signt of an empty chair vacated earlier by his father who had been visiting him at the Hague. This image of his own empty chair resounds with a similiarly plaintive call.
Gaugin's arrival in Arles a few months earlier had heralded an initial period of calm and joy in both men's lives. However, tensions soon surfaced. More at home in the city, Gaugin found Arles rather dull and ordinary. Furthermore, Van Gogh wanted more companionship than Gaugin could realistically offer and, as a consequence, he became worried that his friend would leave the Yellow House. This eventuality was made more likely by Van Gogh's notiorious temperment. His violent mood swings and Gauguin's rampant egoism meant clashes became inevitable. Added to this heady brew, they also began to disagree about art. Van Gogh expressed his fears about the possibility of Gauguin's imminent departure in two famous paintings, of which this is one. The steep perspecctive of this painting throws us violently into the picture, creating a disorienting dynamic. The other painting, featuring Gauguin's chair, is equally fraught with tension.