Van Gogh’s Yarn balls 

Last Friday we finally made it to the exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute, Van Gogh’s Bedrooms.  (I think that I would have titled the exhibit Van Gogh’s Bedroom, singular, as he set up his bedroom for the first painting, and copied from the first for the other 2) The exhibit had been receiving rave reviews, and had been on our to-do list for quite some time.  Word had it that the exhibit was very popular, and it seemed more so as it was in the last few days.  It was very crowded, and hard to move through.  We did a prolonged tour, reading all the story boards and looking at the paintings as best we could.  Then, we went to the Art Institute courtyard to sit and had a couple of glasses of wine under a gorgeous blue sky.  About 30 minutes before the exhibit was to close, we went back again, this time to really get a good look at the paintings.  It was a brilliant plan, as there was hardly anyone in the exhibit at that time.


The premise of the exhibit was to compare the various versions of Van Gogh’s bedroom painting. There were of course leading photos and background information on his work.  He really only painted for a few years, but was incredibly prolific.  There were 3 versions of the Bedroom painting, one that resides in Amsterdam, one from Paris, and of course the Art Institute version. It was really interesting to see them side by side.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They had even recreated his tiny bedroom that he had painted.


But, the most intriguing thing to me was the collection of Yarn Balls that he had in a small red lacquer box.


The one at the exhibit was a copy, and so it got me interested in how this compared to the real one.  I had never heard about this before.


I felt that much of the yarn from the exhibit looked like modern commercial yarn, and that the curators could have done a better job of matching the yarn to what was really in the box.  I feel like they did not do a great job of replicating the yarn.  I wonder if I am the only one who noticed that.


It was interesting to hear that Van Gogh used the yarn for his color theory.

One of the most curious objects preserved at the Van Gogh Museum is a slightly battered Chinese red lacquer box containing 16 colourful balls of wool and a few loose strands of yarn. Some of the balls are a single colour, a golden yellow, or an intense blue-green, while others combine two or three colours of twisted yarn, such as dark violet and bright yellow, or yellow-orange and light green. It is known for certain that the balls of yarn belonged to Vincent van Gogh because his close friend, the artist Emile Bernard, mentioned them in an elegiac article on Van Gogh written shortly after he died. Bernard noted that during a visit with Van Gogh in Paris he saw on a table, along with some Japanese crépons, a few ‘balls of wool whose interlaced strands played a surprising symphony’ of colors.

When I look at his paintings, I can almost see the brush strokes as pieces of yarn laid side by side.  This gives me a new appreciation for his work.  He has always been one of my favorite artists.  Now, with a renewed attraction.  Fiber.

Starry Starry Night really evokes the feeling of yarn to me.  Perhaps that is why it has always been a favorite.

What a gifted, yet tortured artist.  What would he have produced had he lived longer.