|Olympia by Edouard Manet … 'a parody of the luxurious beds |
on which Titian and Velazquez displayed their beauties.'
The 10 best beds in art
From Tracey Emin's, strewn with condoms and cigarette butts, to Rembrandt's love-making couple and Munch's Sick Child, the bed in art is a cradle for our loneliness, eroticism and fears
Wednesday 2 July 2014 17.58 BST
Edouard Manet – Olympia (1863)
The bed on which Manet's prostitute reclines is a glittering array of complicated swags of off-white linen. Just as his portrayal of Olympia is harsher and more real that the traditional nudes his painting mocks, so her bed is a parody of the luxurious beds on which Titian and Velazquez displayed their beauties.
Vincent van Gogh – The bedroom (1888)
The potent colours and rolling shapes of Van Gogh's bedroom in the Yellow House, the would-be art community he founded in Arles, have at their emotional heart his bed. It is the bed of an ascetic, a lonely man, a dreamer ravished by visions of the ideal. This empty bed contains Van Gogh's troubled soul.
Robert Rauschenberg – Bed (1955)
The first artist to exhibit his own bed as an artwork was, as far as history records, Robert Rauschenberg. This is an intensely personal work, a relic of his sexual relationships with Cy Twombly (who scrawled on the pillow) and Jasper Johns. Yet it is also a painting, hung vertically so that it becomes the equivalent of a canvas – the abstract expressionist bed.
Tracey Emin – My Bed (1998)
Emin's artwork, just sold for £2.5 million, is poetic and suggestive. What is more intimate than going to bed? In turning hers into art without, as Rauschenberg had, painting on it or hanging it up, Emin created a readymade as pungent in its way as Duchamp's urinal. Yet it also echoes Van Gogh's and Aubrey Beardsley's beds, and speaks of love, sex, dreams and death. It is a deeply human work of art.
Eugene Delacroix – The Death of Sardanapalus (1827)
Perhaps technically a divan rather than a bed – but no other work of art features quite such a sprawling bed-like item of furniture as the vast red-covered mattress resting on golden elephants that fills Delacroix's decadent masterpiece. This giant lounger mirrors The Raft of the Medusa on which Gericault shows a group of shipwrecked survivors. Delacroix turns the raft into a bed and a scene of terror into one of sensual despair.
Rembrandt – The French Bed (1646)
In this beautifully unpretentious piece of erotic art Rembrandt shows not nymphs and satyrs but a real Dutch couple – perhaps him and his lover Hendrickje Stoffels– making love in their cosy bed. You feel the chill in the room, and the couple's comfort as they embrace one another.
Aubrey Beardsley – Self-Portrait in Bed (1900)
Long before Tracey Emin created her monument to the vie boheme, Beardsley confessed to decadent dreams in this self-portrait in which he almost vanishes into his ornate bed. "By the gods" says the inscription in French, "not all the monsters are in Africa!" Beardsley identifies art with sensuality, sexuality and the unconsious – in other words, with being in bed.
Edvard Munch – The Sick Child (1907)
|The Sick Child, 1907|
Vittore Carpaccio – The Dream of St Ursula (1497-98)
This is a wonderful portrayal of a Renaissance bedroom. Ursula has flowers in her room, a book of hours to read – and a sumptuous red bed. In it she dreams not of love but of God. In her sleep she experiences a vision that will lead her to become a martyr. Beds can be dangerous places.
Piero della Francesca – The Dream of Constantine (1452-66)
Before a decisive battle the Christian emperor Constantine has a prophetic dream. His campbed looks comfortable and refined. Above it, Piero paints the canopy of his tent in a way that suggests the invisible world of dreams hovering over the sleeper in his bed of prophecy.