We spend close to a third of our days in bed. So it’s not surprising that artists through the ages have found it to be a rich source of inspiration. A lot happens in a bed. Sleep. Sex. Dreams. We cry in bed, laugh in bed, nurse babies, cuddle with animals, read novels, watch TV, recover from illness and even die in our beds. I’ve selected a very small spattering of thought-provoking bed art examples.
Most of you may be surprised to discover that the painter famous for cancan dancers and cabarets created a series of intimate portraits of people in bed. This one is in the Orsay Museum collection and I love it because it’s unclear whether the person on the right is nodding off to sleep or peering beneath drooping lids to see if their partner is already asleep. You may be further surprised to learn that the women in these paintings are prostitutes sharing a bed in their brothel.
Frida Kahlo may well be the most recognizable female artist in the world. Her unibrow and floral headdresses are so iconic as to be almost cliché. But a vast proportion of her art explores her lifelong suffering following a tragic accident. She underwent numerous operations and treatments that required her to spend months on her back. During these times, her bed was the stage for her entire existence. Most of us would not have survived, let alone have the physical, mental and emotional strength to create the unforgettable and magnificent paintings she produced in her bed.
This installation piece was exhibited in the Tate Gallery in 1999 and shortlisted for the Turner Prize (trust me, that’s a big deal). But you can imagine that the public were confused, angered and befuddled by the work. I think it’s rather brilliant – Ms. Emin apparently awoke after a four-day stay in bed bingeing on alcohol while in a depressive state. When she stumbled out of bed she realized that the filthy mess was symbolic of every emotion she had lived through in those four days. No self-portrait could have said more. To critics who observed that anyone could put their bed in a museum, the artist responded: “Well, they didn’t, did they?” Right on. Watch the video to hear her talk about it.
Maggie Siner is one of my very favorite contemporary artists. Her superb gestural, fresh paintings reflect her daily life. She was born in Providence, RI, lived and taught in Paris for many years and since 2008, has lived in Venice. The way her bed series captures the morning light takes my breath away. It’s worth reading about her many careers on her way to becoming a master painter – it’s hard to believe she fit all that in one lifetime!
I painted this piece with the intention of capturing that dreamlike state just as our bodies and minds are awakening to a new day. In these troubled times we have to remind ourselves to be grateful for every single day we are blessed with, and to be mindful of every breath we take.
Last but not least, a painting by my favorite 19th century renegade painter, Gustave Courbet. This painting is not outstanding for its figurative excellence but for the subversive statement it made at the time of its creation. Le sommeil makes an important cameo appearance in my recently released novel ‘L’Origine: The secret life of the world’s most erotic masterpiece’.