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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Mazzola


It’s the final chamber, the final destination for those who walked for hours going back and forth, staring at colours, expressions and subjects painted by someone that they probably didn’t even know before.

Just across one of the largest rooms at the National Gallery, a dense group of people are condensed around a chair.

Yes, a chair.

A chair is useful as a remedy to tiredness, boredom and sleepiness. A chair can be made of wood, metal or even plastic. A chair is a tool to express sorrow, divergences, personality and yourself.

This is not a simple chair but Van Gogh’s own means of expression. The room looks emptier than it was before. It is like no one can see Van Gogh’s “Two Crabs” (1889) or Gauguin’s exotic forests.

Cool shades of yellow and cool blue outlines the figure of a humble yet practical object. The floor is a rough brushed orange contrasted by a burgundy.

Visitors fight to take a perfect photo to share on Instagram. They will add the hashtag “vangogh” and wait for an admiration Van Gogh never received in life – it will take just a few minutes to get at least 40 likes.

Van Gogh’s chair though, is not a stand-alone picture: it is part of a concept born after his turbulent yet important encounter with Paul Gauguin in 1888.

After those brief but intense 63 days together the artist painted two chairs with two completely colour palettes.

Only in 1968 were the two chairs hung next to each other on the same wall; one is darker, manlier, luxurious -the other is clearer, neutral and simple.

They represent the differences between Van Gogh’s feminine insecurity and Gauguin’s masculine security.

A chair though, can be also very harmful because of its solid structure: after the realization of this painting Van Gogh cut his ear in a desperate attempt of something never truly understood.

If from one side there’s an insecure man smoking from his pipe without any person on his side, on the other side there’s a secure man who travelled the world looking for the pleasures of life.

Are people seeing this while taking a horrible and oversaturated photo?

The answer will never be clear, but its simplicity still strikes hearts and intrepid eyes of Japanese tourists used to HOKUSAI Katsushika’s xylography or Florence’s Uffizi.

Over 2000 paintings wait to be instagrammed in the National Gallery and over 700 years are there to be discovered but visitors are still there queuing – without the chance of taking the perfect photo for their cheap art blog.

Are they spotting Van Gogh’s latent homosexual desire for Gauguin? Are they feeling Van Gogh’s hatred for his mother? No one can answer but one thing is certain: it’s a comfortable chair.

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