Out of the Picture – Van Gogh’s Room at Arles Part Two

Hello everyone! I'm back with part two of Van Gogh's Room at Arles - so let's get straight down to business. The concept of Out of the Picture is creating room designs inspired by famous paintings – you can read more about it here when I introduced the series. The first painting I’ve been looking at is Van Gogh’s Room at Arles:

The idea is not to create a replica of the room in this painting, but create a design inspired by the painting - so looking at how the composition, the colour palette, the history of the painting, the life of the artist, and the general mood of the painting could translate into a room design.

For ‘Room at Arles’, I came up with the following design elements:

  • Vibrant colours - blues, yellows, browns, oranges and greens (to match the colour-palette of the painting)
  • Interesting elements in the room to catch the eye (in the same way that the eye of the viewer is drawn around the painting from the pictures on the walls, to the clothes hanging behind the bed, to thejugs on the night-stand)
  • Clean lines and shapes (to align to the clean lines shapes of the painting)
  • Rustic/modern feel (because the painting has a modern style, with solid blocks of colour, but the rough brush-strokes give a rustic edge)
  • Textures and layers (Van Gogh used a technique called impasto, where the paint is layered on very thickly to add depth and texture)
  • Mediterranean/Provencal style (because Van Gogh was inspired to paint ‘Room at Arles’ by the surrounding Provencal landscape.

You can read the full analysis by checking out the first installment of Van Gogh’s Room at Arles.

In order to turn these design elements into an actual room design with specific items of furniture, wallpapers, accessories and so on, I decided to create an inspiration board based to bridge the gap between the painting and the room design.

I can’t imagine Van Gogh was really that into making inspiration boards, but if he was, he might have created one for Room at Arles that looked something like this:

Window, flowers, wood
Sunflower field, wicker wine jugs, tile
Door, suitcases, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

OK, so here’s how this inspiration board breaks down.

The photo of the window with the blue shutters is actually a house in Provence, so it aligns to the Provencal elements I’m looking to include in the room design. The cobalt blue represents the Provencal sea and sky – and the overall mood of this image is one of rusticity.

The photo of the flowers brings in the yellow palette. The style here is clean and modern, as expressed by the simple shape of the pom-pom flowers and vase, with no foliage or additional decoration.

The piece of wood again represents rusticity, as you can clearly see the grain and texture. You also get a sense of weight and solidness. I love to see rustic wood like this used in modern designs – Andre and I once lived in a fantastic flat on the top floor of a Victorian house, which the landlord had converted in a very modern style (white walls, contemporary kitchen and bathroom, laminate floor) while retaining the original Victorian beams in the ceiling.

The photo of the sunflowers is again taken in Provence – it brings in the colour palette, and links to Van Gogh’s famous sunflower series, one of which can be seen in the bottom right of the board. The middle photo is of three wicker wine jugs – they bring a sense of antique country style, but would be equally at home in a modern setting. The weave of the wicker also adds texture and interest.

The blue and white of the tile gives me a strong sense of the Mediterranean, while the simple, binary colour palette has a modern feel – and the raised surface of the tile again adds texture. The flaking blue paint on the door in the bottom left provides another rustic element, and more texture.

I can see Van Gogh having battered old antique suitcases like these under his bed – and of course the sunflowers are one of his own paintings, and provide the familiar modern/rustic feeling, with the simple yellow and blue palette and the flat background contrasting with the rough brush-strokes.

So there you have it – an inspiration board based on Van Gogh’s Room at Arles. The final step will be to create a list of items of furniture, paint colours, wallpapers, and accessories that also align to this inspiration board.

It’s surprisingly difficult trying to describe in writing my own mental associations with colours, shapes and images. For example, to me, blue and white represents the Mediterranean. To someone else, it could represent Holland (Delft pottery) or Cornwall (the famous Cornish Blue blue and white striped ceramics), and this would be an equally valid interpretation.

What do you see when you look at Room At Arles? What do you see when you look at the inspiration board? I’m sure your interpretation will be completely different to mine, and I’d love to hear about it!

In a way, it reminds me of Lyra reading her alethiometer in His Dark Materials (also known as The Most Amazing Books Ever), and the different symbols having different levels of meaning. Ah, His Dark Materials. I read all three books one after the other, and was desolate when I got to the end.

Mind you, I am the kind of person who re-reads books over and over again – I guess because I don’t read to arrive at the destination, but to enjoy the journey on the way there.... In fact, I think I might take The Amber Spyglass with me to read on the plane when I travel to Berlin later today. So I'll be blogging from Germany tomorrow - until then, Ich wünsche dir einen schönen Tag!