Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Van Gogh gusto

by Brad Lindberg Staff Writer

February 14, 2013

DETROIT - Vincent Van Gogh saw things his way.

-I do not want the beauty to come from the material, but from within myself,- Van Gogh wrote in one of his many letters.

“He interprets things and brings them to a different level of understanding,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, head of the European art department at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

One of Van Gogh's most intimate perceptions is “Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles,” at the DIA Tuesday, Feb. 19 through May 28.

The work is on loan from the Musee d'Orsay, in Paris. Two other versions by Van Gogh exist.

“The one we are displaying was a painting he did for his sister and mother,” Salort-Pons said. “He has a personal attachment to it.”

Van Gogh painted it in 1889. It represents his room in the Yellow House, in Arles, France.

“It's painted in one of the happiest moments of his life,” Salort-Pons said. “He was in the south of France. He wanted to found a community of artists there.”

Van Gogh revealed the work's motif in a letter to his brother, Theo:

“Here, color is to do everything … and be suggestive of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.”

In addition to prosecuting his goal with a bright palette, Van Gogh also broke rules of perspective.

Although the Yellow House was too damaged during World War II to be rebuilt, it is known the actual bedroom was deeper than wide, yet the rendering is flat and lacks depth.

There are no shadows, even implied by variations in tone.

“He's lifting the perspective line almost to the middle of the painting,” Salort-Pons said.

By lifting the floor, the image is flattened.

“If he would lower the floor, the sense of depth in the painting would be increased,” Salort-Pons said. “Then, we would have the idea that the painting is three-dimensional.”

Van Gogh's interest in flat surfaces reveals the influence of Japanese prints.

“I feel as though I were in Japan,” he wrote in a letter after arriving in Arles; adding in another about the bedroom painting, “It is painted in free flat tints, like Japanese prints.”

“He thinks flatness creates a sense of restfulness that an image of a bedroom should convey,” Salort-Pons said.

Yet, those bold colors: Violet walls, lilac doors, green window, red tile floor, orange bed and chairs, scarlet bed cover and blue wash basin.

The scheme is characteristic of how movie director Tim Burton uses color to create juxtapositions and atmospheres of nonconformity. (Burton's first film, “Vincent,” had to do with Edgar Allan Poe, not the painter.)

“Van Gogh has a very personal view of nature,” Salort-Pons said. “His personal view is conveyed through his technique. The use of colors could appear to us like they're clashing, but, at the same time, are empowering each other by oppositions they produce.”

Too bad William Hazlitt didn't live an additional 60 years to cite Van Gogh's paintings in support of his 1816 essay, “On Gusto.”

“Gusto in art is power or passion defining any object,” Hazlitt wrote. “It is in giving truth of character from the truth of feeling that gusto exists.”

“Van Gogh is a very forceful artist,” Salort-Pons said. “We can go into the mind of Van Gogh to understand what he's doing because we have all those letters. Those letters match the paintings he did. They have the same intensity of expression.”

“Bedroom” is one of Van Gogh's most popular pieces.

“Maybe it's so popular because it's just a bedroom,” Salort-Pons said. “People can relate to it very easily. There is that accessibility that makes the painting very popular.”

The Detroit Institute of Arts is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Admission is free for residents of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. For more information, visit or call (313) 833-7900.