Yellow Chair

The chair reveals its owner!!


Vincent’s Chair with His Pipe

Arles: December, 1888
(London, National Gallery)
F 498, JH 1635

Sigmund Freud said: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.  may be but not always right?

Like any other piece of furniture under use. Empty chairs are often seen as the personification of the people who own them, Van Gogh may have thought this when he painted this canvas. The simple chair above, the sober room and the daytime light are all typical of Van Gogh’s simple, realistic approach.. The same plain chair with a wickerwork seat that we see in one of his other paintings The Bedroom.

on the other hand we have another chair by him

Gauguin’s Armchair

Arles: December, 1888
(Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum)
F 499, JH 1636

Personal possessions, like in case of Gauguin’s – are used to characterize or ‘portray’ the owner.

The two paintings of Vincent’s and Paul Gauguin’s chairs are among the most often analyzed of Van Gogh’s works. These have attracted much attention because of the symbolic interpretations underlying the subject matter. Van Gogh himself discussed these works in a number of his letters, written to the critic  Vincent described Gauguin’s chair as “somber reddish-brown wood, the seat of greenish straw, and in the absent one’s place a lighted torch and modern novels.”

In addition to the symbolic undercurrents of the work (discussed below) these two paintings are also unique in terms of the way in which they’re displayed together, given the volatile relationship between the two painters  a grudging, but sincere admiration in spite of the unfortunate outcome of their relationship in “the Yellow House” in Arles.


The colour scheme of the two chairs is, to coin a phrase, as different as night and day. Van Gogh’s chair is executed with lighter colours suggesting daylight, whereas Gauguin’s chair is presented with darker, more somber tones. Van Gogh himself describes the two works and wrote “I have tried for an effect of light by means of clear colour”

Symbolic Interpretations

Symbolic interpretations of Van Gogh’s work covers a wide spectrum. -a conflict due in part to their clashing personalities Vincent’s increasing disdain for the religious beliefs his father espoused. Consequently, this painting has a clear symbolic undercurrent: the bible represents Van Gogh’s father and religion in general, and the small yellow book.

Similarly, the symbolic interpretations of the paintings of the chairs also seems fairly straightforward. Van Gogh’s own chair is shown as simple and unpretentious–a plain straw chair on a red-tiled floor. Gauguin’s chair, on the other hand, is far more ornate. It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to interpret the chairs as representing Van Gogh’s own perception of himself as opposed to Gauguin.

Throughout his life Van Gogh preferred the company of poorer working people over those of an aristocratic background. Gauguin’s chair is far more lavish and ornate.  A biography of Vincent van Gogh presents symbolic analysis of these two paintings and focuses on Gauguin’s chair: Both the feminine mothering aspect and the virile male aspect of Gauguin are represented in Gauguin’s Chair, Vincent’s symbolic portrayal of his comrade. The chair’s broad curving bottom appears identical to the chair of The Cradle that contains the curved broad-bottomed, feminine figure of Madame Roulin. But there is a contradiction. A lighted candle stands erect in the forepart of Gauguin’s seat, with two modern novels beside it.

Whatever the range of interpretations, the paintings of the two chairs remain among Vincent’s best loved and most beautifully executed works.


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