3 Famous Beds in Art

The bed is our earliest memory and perhaps our last. It is a place of repose, a place of dreams, a place to share secrets and to hide them.

Artists throughout history have used the bed as a backdrop to drama, passion, and scenes of sheer beauty.

Olympia, Édouard Manet, 1863

Olympia, 1863
Édouard Manet
Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

Shocking at the time of its unveiling, Manet’s Olympia wasn’t the picture-perfect French woman that some would have expected to see on a bed. Instead, she was a courtesan. The focus of public attack when it was first hung in the Salon of Paris in 1885, this famous work depicts the model not as the accustomed idealized, mythological female, but as a real woman with her flaws and all…something totally unacceptable to the French art critics.

Vincent van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, 1889 Chicago Institute of Art

Vincent van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, 1889
Vincent van Gogh
Chicago Institute of Art

The bright colors and rolling shapes of van Gogh’s bedroom in the Yellow House in France have at their emotional heart his bed. It is the bed of an ascetic, a lonely man, a dreamer revisited by unfulfilled dreams. This empty bed contains van Gogh’s troubled soul.

Bed-In for Peace, Amsterdam 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Bed-In for Peace, Amsterdam, 1969
John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Performance Art
Knowing that their wedding would cause a huge stir in the press, John Lennon and Yoko Ono decided to use their honeymoon to help champion world peace. On March 25, 1969, five days after their wedding, the duo climbed into the bed of room 902 at the Amsterdam Hilton and invited the media.

The couple’s interviews were reported in newspapers, radio, television, and newsreels worldwide. They received hostility, bemusement and mirth from the rest of the world, but their peace message was nonetheless widely distributed.

The mystery of Manet’s Olympia! Click here if you are unable to view the video.

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  1. Elizabeth Weems March 24, 2015 at 10:59 am - Reply

    “The bed is our earliest memory and perhaps our last”. Profound and beautiful turn of phrase Kirby!

  2. Christina March 24, 2015 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Good morning, as usual I so enjoyed watching the video you sent and reading your blog.

  3. Jan March 24, 2015 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Good to hear from you! I so enjoyed your blog! Loved knowing a little bit about the art subject of famous beds!
    thanks for sharing this with us!

  4. david kremenak March 24, 2015 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    I am hard-pressed to consider John and Yoko’s huge bed as a work of art, rather than as a contemptuous nose-thumbing by a pair of self-indulgent iconoclasts. Manet may have been guilty of a bit of nose-thumbing of the “Masters” himself, but I find no suggestion of irony in Van Gogh’s nostalgic memory of his safe haven. 3 Famous Beds, perhaps, but only the former 2 qualify as “art”.

  5. gs March 24, 2015 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    I like this post Kirby. Wanted to see one of your’s …

  6. Linda bail March 25, 2015 at 6:39 am - Reply

    Good job! Liked link to video…and found the additional iTunes ones good as well

  7. Margo March 25, 2015 at 11:46 am - Reply

    I’ve seen a lot less interesting “performance art” in my day. Guess I’m not a fan of it. I enjoyed John’s drawings, poetry &, certainly, music more than this performance art. But they did get their point across.
    There’s an artist who has his own gallery in Laguna who paints almost all touseled beds & linens. Can’t think of his name. They’re good, tho a bit repetitive.

  8. Gigi March 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed you connecting the Lennon bed in with art. Art is present to make you think and to question. Your blog shouldn’t and isn’t enjoyed because it is always safe. It always gives me room to look at things differently. After all, we travel to the MOMA to view live nude people standing in repose. The Lennon bed could have taken place at the MOMA. It is all personal opinion. Thank you, as always, for your thought provoking and well researched blogs. So fortunate to have you!

  9. Lydia Pettis March 25, 2015 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    That was SO enlightening, Kirby. I really liked your comments , and the you tube piece was absorbing.
    I kept realizing as I listened to the commentary that I almost “already knew” what they were interpreting from Manet’s work, and yet I would have never been able to articulate what they came up with. Reminds me of why I appreciate your blog so much. It’s like taking an art history class, which I missed out on in my education. Thanks. Lydia

  10. Woody March 26, 2015 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    Reading this in bed!

  11. Vic DePratti April 6, 2015 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    I vote for “Bed Peace”. But why? Well it suggests a certain rebellious take on the purpose/reasons for the bed. It is indeed a place primarily of repose. Repose of all sorts. As stated, it is intended for body rest, rest of the spirit, rest of mind, and then a variety other activities best left to ones imagination. But the none the less, the bed remains an important, if not a critical spot, where we all spend much time. As in, “hang out”.

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