Behind the paint ‘A Tale of Two Chairs’

Van Gogh Chair with pipe 1888

I’ve just put a poem on my other blog Bookstains, using Vincent Van Gogh‘s very famous chair to illustrate it.  A recent (virtual) trip to the Van Gogh Museum (see this post) gave me the opportunity of seeing his paintings up close.  I have seen Van Gogh’s chair before in The National Gallery London – however, this isn’t the only chair the artist painted.

Gauguin's armchair 1888

When Van Gogh’s hero Gauguin stayed with him at the Yellow House in Arles, the  artists initially did get on with each other.  All this was to change though. Van Gogh painted two chair picures – his own chair and Gauguin’s  (Gauguin’s being in the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.)  The  chairs embody  the differences between the two artists temperaments and approaches to art.

Van Gogh has painted Gauguin’s more comfier  stylish chair and placed it upon a carpet of flowers.  A candle  illuminates some books which lie there: the green wall behind it is lit  by a blazing lamp.  Van Gogh’s own yellow chair sits in the kitchen on old brown kitchen tiles.  A box of onions lie in the background and the blue door in the picture is shut.  Upon this battered high-backed chair with its stout uneven legs, lies a pipe and some tobacco wrapped  in a scrap of  crumpled paper.

The-Empty-Chair by Luke Fildes

The empty chairs show the artists having left them of course – even perhaps to have departed from this earth.  The contrasts between the chairs do seem to illustrate the differences between the artists (from Van Gogh’s viewpoint).  Van Gogh more attuned to the ethics of the hard working peasants and Gauguin more worldly and sophisticated. What is known is that Van Gogh, who liked  English graphic art was inspired by an image which he saw  in a Victorian Magazine The Graphic by Luke Fildes The Empty Chair, Gad’s Hill’ in 1870, the year Charles Dickens died. 

The paintings also acts as a reminder of that fateful night in 1888 when Van Gogh and Gauguin’s relationship finally reached breaking point, culminating in him threatening Gauguin with a razor (the latter wisely decided to stay at a local hotel that night) and Van Gogh proffered his severed ear lobe to a prostitute.

 Google art Project – Virtual trips around 17 famous museums here

Lots of information about these two paintings here

Van Gogh Images from here

Luke Fildes image from here

8 thoughts on “Behind the paint ‘A Tale of Two Chairs’

  1. One of the family jokes visiting the relatives in Amsterdam was that they were going to move a bed for me inside the Van Gogh Museum. I spent as much time at the Rijksmuseum too ogling the Rembrandts and Vermeers. I love the two chair paintings and appreciate you showing Vincent’s inspiration in that old English photograph. It’s interesting thinking that two personalities like Gauguin and Van Gogh could ever find each other and share such a unique moment in art historical time.

    1. Thats a great story Al 😉 Isn’t it wonderful that now we can all take a stroll around those places! It must have been quite traumatic for Van Gogh to finally meet his hero. At first the two got on, critiquing each other. But you know what they say – familiarity breeds contempt.
      I feel sorry for both othem really – but especailly Van Gogh who seemed out of his depth and in awe of Gauguin. Interestingly, they still corosponded with each other up to Van Goghs death, so the incident doesn’t seem to have affected their mutual respect for each other as artists.

  2. This is so interesting, Lynda. Thank-you for bringing the story of the chairs to us. Of course I knew of Van Gogh’s and Gaugin’s friendship and loss of such but did not know all this about the chairs.

    1. I love the way these chairs have such distinct ‘personalities’ – just like the artists 🙂 Gauguin’s looks more comfortable than Van Gogh’s, yet I prefer the simplicity of Van Gogh’s. A simple chair for such a complex personality!

  3. Yes I loved this chair post and I will have to check out the web tours,,We went to Florence on our way back across Italy one night but we had to detour to vist it as it was not on our route it was only for a couple of hours late night in winter and the uffiz was closed I walked along the outside and it was so frustraing …

    1. There’s nothing worse than not being able to get into a museum/art gallery and having so little time. I saw a pair of very very unusual boots once in Bath, but we were going back the next day before the shop would be open (afternoon). I dream about those boots…. 😦

  4. I’ve always loved these two very different portraits painted by Van Gogh -also fascinated by their strained friendship; despite their differences they still respected the other in a round-about sort of way (Van Gogh more than Gauguin). Having said that, last year I viewed an exhibition by Gauguin at the Tate Modern in London and I was surprised to note that Gauguin studied Van Gogh’s style and adopted it in some of his paintings; which shows’ that he did admire Van Gog; however, much he denied it.

    Thank you for a delightful post.

    1. No, Thank you Yikici for reading! Their friendship fascinates me too. By all accounts both could be difficult, but they did have a mutual respect, like you say, Van Gogh more for Gauguin, almost boprdering on hero worship. As artists, I think Van Gogh had the edge and although difficult and complex he seems to have a more human quality about him which endears him more to people. There’s no denying – they both had passion though 🙂

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