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Vincent's Bedroom in Arles

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Details
Oil on canvas
72.0 x 90.0 cm.
Arles: October, 1888
F 482, JH 1608

Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

History
Provenance
Exhibitions

Analysis
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Vincent's Bedroom in Arles is one of the artist's best known paintings. The striking colours, unusual perspective and familiar subject matter create a work that is not only among Van Gogh's most popular, but also one that he himself held as one of his own personal favourites.

The painting shown here is actually one five versions: three oil on canvas and two letter sketches (see Table 1 below). This specific painting, now in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, was the first of the three oils that Van Gogh produced and, some would argue, the best executed. Furthermore, because Van Gogh was so pleased with the painting he described it at great length in letters to his family. In fact, Vincent describes this painting in no less than thirteen letters and, as a result, a great deal is known about the artist's own feelings about the work.

In a letter to his brother, Theo, Vincent wrote:


My eyes are still tired by then I had a new idea in my head and here is the sketch of it. Another size 30 canvas. This time it's just simply my bedroom, only here colour is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.

The walls are pale violet. The floor is of red tiles.

The wood of the bed and chairs is the yellow of fresh butter, the sheets and pillows very light greenish-citron.

The coverlet scarlet. The window green.

The toilet table orange, the basin blue.

The doors lilac.

And that is all--there is nothing in this room with its closed shutters.

The broad lines of the furniture again must express inviolable rest. Portraits on the walls, and a mirror and a towel and some clothes.

The frame--as there is no white in the picture--will be white.

This by way of revenge for the enforced rest I was obliged to take.

I shall work on it again all day, but you see how simple the conception is. The shadows and the cast shadows are suppressed; it is painted in free flat tints like the Japanese prints. It is going to be a contrast to, for instance, the Tarascon diligence and the night café.

Letter 554


While it's true that Van Gogh often wrote about his works in detail, the florid description of the colours and subject matter of Vincent's Bedroom in Arles is unusually involved. Furthermore, Vincent even suggests a specific frame for the painting which clearly shows that the artist envisioned it proudly on display.


Background

Even with three painted versions it's a relatively straightforward process to pinpoint the details about the origin of this particular painting--thanks to Van Gogh's voluminous letters to Theo. In the letter cited above Van Gogh describes the work as a "size 30" (large) canvas, so this would immediately eliminate the Musée d'Orsay version which is significantly smaller. Could the Chicago version of the bedroom painting be the original, however, and not the Van Gogh Museum version? Jan Hulsker, Van Gogh scholar and expert on the letters argues to the contrary:

As the two others, differing only in very minor details, are size-30 canvases, one of them must be the replica made in Saint-Rémy. The fact that [JH] 1608 is the original, painted in Arles, is confirmed by a detail in the picture itself. In Letter 553b, written October 4--only about ten days before the painting was made--Vincent informed his friend Boch: "Your portrait is hanging in my bedroom, together with that of Milliet, the Zouave, which I have just completed." The painting on the far right above the bed in 1608 must indeed be what he referred to as the portrait of Milliet, for the bright red of the kepi can be made out against the green of the background just below the upper edge of the picture. In the later replica, 1771, this figure has been replaced by a portrait of a woman.1

(See Table 2 below.)

Furthermore, now that the profiled work has been established as the original, it can be accurately dated thanks to Van Gogh's Letter 555 (17 October 1888) in which he wrote "I am adding a line to tell you that this afternoon I finished the canvas representing the bedroom." It's rare (but always welcome) that Van Gogh's paintings can be dated with such precision. A recent article in Sky and Telescope (April, 2001) about The White House at Night is another example in which the completion of a Van Gogh work can be narrowed down to a matter of a few hours.


Style

The bright and bold use of colour in Vincent's Bedroom in Arles is typical of the vibrant palette he began to use beginning late in his Paris period. Yellow was Van Gogh's favourite colour throughout his Arles and Saint-Rémy period--whether outdoors in wheatfields under the Provencal sun or indoor works such as the bedroom.

Probably the most striking and unusual aspect of the painting is the peculiar perspective. The work is unrealistic in its warped portrayal of the bedroom, with the subjects skewed downward toward the viewer. This is one of the aspects that makes the painting so unique and easily recognizable. The perspective seems extreme, but later in his career as an artist Van Gogh was not only rebelling against the muted colours of the Dutch artists of the time, he was also breaking free from the confines of the perspective frame which dictated a precise and realistic approach to a work's perspective. Van Gogh often rejected conventional perspective in the latter half of his career as an artist--particularly in many of his Arles paintings (see The Seated Zouave and The Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine in Arles, for example).

Interestingly, the unusual perspective isn't necessarily explained solely because of Van Gogh's conscious stylistic choice. Ronald Pickvance in his book Van Gogh in Arles suggests an explanation based more on architectural fact than artistic preference. Pickvance explains that the very shape of Van Gogh's room was unusual and, as a result, Van Gogh's portrayal of it is actually more realistic than the viewer might initially imagine. The diagram at right shows the actual shape of Van Gogh's room.2 Note the slant to the outer wall which, when depicted in Van Gogh's painting, adds to the unusual perspective.


Other versions

As mentioned, Van Gogh produced five versions of his Bedroom in Arles: three oils and two letter sketches. The two copies of the original painting were produced while Van Gogh was under voluntary confinement at the mental asylum in Saint-Rémy. Van Gogh chose to paint a number of copies of his earlier works while in the asylum--perhaps as a reflection of his mental state at the time. His copies of L'Arlesienne (Madame Ginoux), for example, may suggest the loneliness of his life at the asylum as he reflected fondly on the few friends he had made in Arles.

Some have argued that Vincent's original bedroom painting encapsulates all of his dreams and aspirations during the first several months in Arles. Van Gogh had hoped for form an artist's colony in the south of France--a cooperative community in which painters could learn from each other and support their collective goals. When Vincent rented his Yellow House he took the first step toward realizing this goal. The bedroom painting, in turn, suggests domesticity and a sense of well being within one's own home (in Letter B22 Van Gogh himself maintains that the painting conveys "absolute restfulness"). When Van Gogh painted the two Saint-Rémy copies he may have been ruminating on all that he had lost in Arles and what he was deprived of within the asylum walls: a home and a sense of purpose.

Table 1

Title Medium F JH Location Thumbnail
Vincent's Bedroom Sketch in Letter B22 None 1610 Paris, Private collection

Vincent's Bedroom in Arles Oil on canvas 482 1608 Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum

Vincent's Bedroom in Arles Oil on canvas 483 1793 Paris, Musée d'Orsay

Vincent's Bedroom in Arles Oil on canvas 484 1771 Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago

Vincent's Bedroom in Arles Sketch in Letter 554 None 1609 Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum

Note: The bedroom also appears as a very faint secondary motif in Van Gogh's drawing Interior of a Restaurant.


Paintings within the works . . . .

Van Gogh's bedroom series of works is also unusual in that it's the only time that the artist depicts other examples of his own works within a painting. Vincent's Yellow House in Arles not only served as the artist's home, but also as his studio. As a result, he hung many of his newly painted works on the walls within the Yellow House (the adjacent bedroom of Paul Gauguin, for example, displayed a number of Van Gogh's famous sunflower paintings).

The works depicted in the bedroom series present some challenges. First of all, only the three paintings (one over the bed and two side by side on the right wall) shown in each of the five versions will be considered. Ronald Pickvance speculates that the two drawings on the bottom of the right wall are likely to be Japanese prints.3 Van Gogh's fondness for Japanese art works is well known--a fondness particularly acute during his Arles period. Interestingly, the Japanese prints are missing from the Letter 554 version.

The three paintings are varied and present some interesting insights. For example, in the original work Van Gogh displays two of his favourite portraits, whereas in the later Musée d'Orsay version he includes a self-portrait that he wouldn't paint until nearly a year later. Van Gogh may have included this particular self-portrait in the d'Orsay version because he's shown to be remarkably healthy and vigorous in spite of his internment at Saint-Rémy. A subtle "message in a bottle" to reassure the original recipients of the d'Orsay version: Vincent's mother and his sister, Wil.

The table below shows each of the "paintings within the work" in detail.

Table 2

Version Detail Works shown
Letter B22

  1. Rocks with Oak Tree (possibly)
  2. Uncertain
  3. Portrait of Eugene Boch (possibly)
Van Gogh Museum

  1. Rocks with Oak Tree (possibly)
  2. Portrait of Eugene Boch
  3. Portrait of Milliet
Musée d'Orsay

  1. Uncertain
  2. Self-Portrait
  3. Uncertain
Art Institute of Chicago

  1. Rocks with Oak Tree (possibly)
  2. Self-Portrait (possibly)
  3. Uncertain
Letter 554

  1. Portrait of the Artist's Mother4
  2. Portrait of Eugene Boch (possibly)
  3. Uncertain


Conclusion

Unquestionably Vincent's Bedroom in Arles is a work which speaks volumes about the man who created it, however the painting also stands on its own as a vital and beautifully executed masterpiece. The subject matter, a comfortable bedroom, is an archetypal motif that transcends the time and place of its origin. The work, which remains as fresh and compelling as it did more than a century ago, inspires new generations in myriad ways: from the absurd (miniature golf course recreations of the bedroom) to the sublime (complex virtual 3D constructs of the bedroom).

Vincent van Gogh himself hoped that the painting would "rest the brain, or rather the imagination." To his credit, the work does neither.


Notes

  1. Jan Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches (Meulenhoff, 1996), p. 367.
  2. Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984), p. 191.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

Links

  1. Explore Van Gogh's bedroom in ways never before possible as the Van Gogh Museum undertakes an extension restoration of this masterpiece.


Provenance

Owner City Country Date acquired Comments
Theo van Gogh Paris France 1890-91  
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger Amsterdam Netherlands 1891-1925  
V.W. van Gogh Laren Netherlands 1925-62  
Van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam Netherlands 1962 On loan to the Stedelijk Museum 1962-73.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam Netherlands 1973 On permanent loan from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.


Exhibitions

Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1903 Wiesbaden Germany Festsaale des Rathauses Ausstellung der Holländischen Secession 4 October 1903 30 October 1903 15
1904 Rotterdam Netherlands Kunstzalen Oldenzeel Tentoonstelling van werken door Vincent van Gogh 10 November 1904 15 December 1904 73
1905 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh 15 July 1905 1 August 1905 144
1908 Dresden Germany Emil Richter Vincent van Gogh/Paul Cézanne  
 
75
1908 Berlin (1) Germany Ausstellungshaus am Kurfürstendamm VII. Ausstellung 5 March 1908 22 March 1908 13
1909 Munich Germany Moderne Kunsthandlung [F.J. Brakl] Vincent van Gogh [French Period]  
 
24
1910 Berlin (1) Germany Paul Cassirer Ausstellung Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 25 October 1910 20 November 1910 26
1911-12 Hamburg Germany Galerie Commeter  
10 November 1911  
13
1912 Breslau/Dresden Germany Galerie Ernst Arnold Ausstellung Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890  
 
15
1912 Cologne Germany Städtische Ausstellungshalle am Aachener Tor Internationale Kunstausstellung des Sonderbundes Westdeutscher Kunstfreunde und Künstler zu Köln 25 May 1912 30 September 1912 89
1914 Berlin (1) Germany Paul Cassirer Vincent van Gogh 30 März 1853-29 July 1890. Zehnte Ausstellung 1 June 1914 5 July 1914 46
1915 Amsterdam Netherlands Gebouw van het Genootschap van kunstenaren Moderne Kunstkring Vincent van Gogh, werken van genooten. schilderijen, teekeningen en beeldhouwwerien 26 September 1915 30 November 1915 12
1923 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Tentoonstelling van Nederlandsche beeldende kunsten  
 
124
1923-24 London United Kingdom Leicester Galleries Vincent van Gogh Exhibition 1 December 1923 15 January 1923 25
1925 Potsdam Germany Orangerie 50 Jahre Holländischer Malerei 1875-1925  
 
41
1925 The Hague Netherlands Pulchri Studio Vincent van Gogh  
 
49
1926 Munich Germany Münchner Glaspalast Allgemeine Kunst-Ausstellung 1 June 1926 3 October 1926 2091
1927 Paris France Galerie Bernheim-Jeune Vincent van Gogh l'époque française 20 June 1927 2 July 1927  
1929 London (1) United Kingdom Royal Academy of Arts Dutch Art 1450-1900 4 January 1929 9 March 1929 457
1930 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh en zijn tijdgenooten 6 September 1930 2 November 1930 59
1935-36 New York United States Museum of Modern Art Vincent van Gogh 5 November 1935 5 January 1936 36
1936 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 11 January 1936 10 February 1936 36
1936 Boston United States Museum of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh 19 February 1936 15 March 1936 36
1936 Cleveland (1) United States Cleveland Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 25 March 1936 19 April 1936 36
1936 San Francisco United States California Palace of the Legion of Honor Vincent van Gogh 28 April 1936 24 May 1936 36
1936 Kansas City United States William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum Vincent van Gogh 9 June 1936 10 July 1936 36
1936 Minneapolis United States Minneapolis Institute of Arts Vincent van Gogh 20 July 1936 17 August 1936 36
1936 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh 26 August 1936 23 September 1936 36
1936 Detroit United States Detroit Institute of Arts Vincent van Gogh 6 October 1936 28 October 1936 36
1945 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh 14 September 1945 1 December 1945 ---
1946 Stockholm Sweden Nationalmuseum Vincent van Gogh. Utställning Anordnad till Förmän för Svenska Hollandshjälpen 8 March 1946 28 April 1946 71
1946 Gothenburg Sweden Göteborgs Konstmuseum Vincent van Gogh. Utställning Anordnad till Förmän för Svenska Hollandshjälpen 3 May 1946 26 May 1946 71
1946 Malmö Sweden Malmö Museum Vincent van Gogh. Utställning Anordnad till Förmän för Svenska Hollandshjälpen 29 May 1946 16 June 1946 71
1946 Liège Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 12 October 1946 3 November 1946 151
1946 Brussels Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 9 November 1946 19 December 1946 151
1946-47 Mons Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 27 December 1946  
151
1947 Paris (1) France Musée de l'Orangerie Vincent van Gogh 24 January 1947 15 March 1947 152
1947 Geneva Switzerland Musée Rath 172 oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh 22 March 1947 20 April 1947 152
1947-48 London United Kingdom Tate Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 10 December 1947 14 January 1948 71
1948 Birmingham United Kingdom City Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 24 January 1948 14 February 1948 71
1948 Glasgow Scotland Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 21 February 1948 14 March 1948 71
1948 Bergen Norway Kunstforening Vincent van Gogh, Malerier Tegninger 23 March 1948 18 April 1948 44
1948 Oslo Norway Kunstnernes Hus Vincent van Gogh, Malerier Tegninger 24 April 1948 15 May 1948 44
1949-50 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 21 October 1949 15 January 1950 117
1950 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 1 February 1950 16 April 1950 117
1951 Lyons France Musée de Lyon Vincent van Gogh 5 February 1951 27 March 1951 52
1951 Arles France Musée Réattu Vincent van Gogh en Provence 5 May 1951 27 May 1951 52
1953 The Hague Netherlands Haags Gemeentemuseum Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 30 March 1953 17 May 1953 156
1953 Otterlo Netherlands Kröller-Müller Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 24 May 1953 19 July 1953 143
1953 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 23 July 1953 20 September 1953 143
1953 Saint Louis United States City Art Museum of Saint Louis Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 17 October 1953 13 December 1953 135
1954 Toledo United States Toledo Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 7 March 1953 30 April 1953 135
1954 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 2 January 1954 28 February 1954 135
1954 Zurich Switzerland Kunsthaus Zurich Vincent van Gogh 9 October 1954 21 November 1954 53
1955 Palm Beach United States Society of the Four Arts Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 21 January 1955 13 February 1955 23
1955 Miami United States Lowe Gallery of the University of Miami Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 24 February 1955 20 March 1955 23
1955 New Orleans United States Isaac Delgado Museum Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 27 March 1955 20 April 1955 23
1955 Antwerp (1) Belgium Feestzaal Vincent van Gogh 7 May 1955 19 June 1955 308
1955 Liverpool United Kingdom Walker Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings, Mainly from the Collection of Ir. V.W. van Gogh 29 October 1955 10 December 1955 67
1955-56 Manchester United Kingdom Manchester City Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings, Mainly from the Collection of Ir. V.W. van Gogh 17 December 1955 4 February 1956 67
1956 Newcastle-upon-Tyne United Kingdom Laing Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings, Mainly from the Collection of Ir. V.W. van Gogh 11 February 1956 24 March 1956 67
1957 Marseilles France Musée Cantini Vincent van Gogh 12 March 1957 28 April 1957 69
1958 San Francisco United States M.H. de Young Memorial Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 6 October 1958 30 November 1958 59
1958-59 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 10 December 1958 18 January 1959 59
1959 Portland United States Portland Art Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 28 January 1959 1 March 1959 59
1959 Seattle United States Seattle Art Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 7 March 1959 19 April 1959 59
1959 Aix-en-Provence France Pavillion de Vendôme Van Gogh en Provence 3 October 1959 30 November 1959 44
1959-60 Utrecht Netherlands Centraal Museum Vincent van Gogh schilderijen en tekeningen verzameling Ir. V.W. van Gogh 18 December 1959 1 February 1960 50
1960 Montreal Canada Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 6 October 1960 6 November 1960 69
1960 Ottawa Canada National Gallery of Canada Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 17 November 1960 18 December 1960 69
1960-61 Winnipeg Canada Winnipeg Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 29 December 1960 31 January 1961 69
1961 Toronto Canada Art Gallery of Toronto Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 10 February 1961 12 March 1961 69
1961 Baltimore United States Baltimore Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 18 October 1961 26 November 1961 62
1961-62 Cleveland United States Cleveland Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 5 December 1961 14 January 1962 62
1962 Buffalo United States Albright Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 30 January 1962 11 March 1962 62
1962 Boston United States Museum of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 22 March 1962 29 April 1962 62
1963 Sheffield United Kingdom Graves Art Gallery An Exhibition of the Works of Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings Lent by Mr. V.W. van Gogh Through the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 21 April 1963 19 May 1963 12
1963 Humlebaek Denmark Louisiana Vincent van Gogh. Malerier og Tegninger 24 October 1963 15 December 1963 47
1964 Washington, D.C. United States Washington Gallery of Modern Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 2 February 1964 19 March 1964 47
1964 New York (4) United States Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 2 April 1964 28 June 1964 47
1965 Charleroi Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen, Aquarellen, Tekeningen 19 January 1965 28 March 1965 33
1965 Ghent Belgium Museum voor Schone Kunsten Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen, Aquarellen, Tekeningen 19 February 1965 21 March 1965 33
1965 Stockholm Sweden Moderna Museet Vincent van Gogh. Mälningar, Akvareller, Teckningar 23 October 1965 19 December 1965 38
1967 Wolfsburg Germany Stadhalle Wolfsburg Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen 18 February 1967 2 April 1967 66
1968-69 London United Kingdom Hayward Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings of the Vincent van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam 23 October 1968 12 January 1969 164
1970 Baltimore United States Baltimore Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 11 October 1970 29 November 1970 47
1970-71 San Francisco United States M.H. de Young Memorial Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 11 December 1970 31 January 1971 47
1971 Brooklyn United States Brooklyn Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 14 February 1971 4 April 1971 47
1973 Bern Switzerland Kunstmuseum Bern Vincent van Gogh. Collection du Musée National Vincent van Gogh à Amsterdam 25 January 1973 15 April 1973 32
1981 Toronto Canada Art Gallery of Ontario Vincent van Gogh and the Birth of Cloisonism 24 January 1981 22 March 1981  
1981 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh and the Birth of Cloisonism 9 April 1981 14 June 1981
1984 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Van Gogh in Arles 18 October 1984 30 December 1984 113
1990 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen 30 March 1990 29 July 1990 69
1994 Tokyo (1) Japan Seiji Togo Memorial Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh and his Time. Van Gogh and Portraits from the Van Gogh Museum and the H.W. Mesdag Museum 14 September 1994 13 November 1994 9
1998-99 Washington, D.C. United States National Gallery of Art Van Gogh's Van Goghs. Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 4 October 1998 3 January 1999 53
1999 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art Van Gogh's Van Goghs. Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 17 January 1999 16 May 1999 53
2002 Amsterdam (1) Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South 9 February 2002 2 June 2002  

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