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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