10 facts about Van Gogh’s masterpiece “Café Terrace at Night”

Vincent van Gogh painting

Vincent van Gogh, “Café Terrace at Night”, 1888 (Photo: Paul Hermans via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

In 1888 Vincent van Gogh exchanged the bustling nightlife of Paris for the tranquility of the French countryside. There, in Arles, the Dutch artist flourished creatively, even as his mental health deteriorated. He made 200 paintings and more than 100 drawings, inspired by the idyllic landscape, the local people and charming towns. Among the many iconic works that emerged in Arles this year was the masterpiece, Café terrace at night

This blue-and-yellow canvas, completed in September 1888, shows a snapshot of a street in Arles, located on the Forum Square and the palace street† At an unknown late hour, people huddle on the patio of a local cafe as people walk by in the street. Nestled between the two rows of buildings, glimpses of a vibrant starry sky, reminiscent of Van Gogh’s other paintings, Starry night over the Rhone and The Starry Night† Like the rest of the Post-Impressionist oeuvre, Café terrace at night was undervalued during Van Gogh’s lifetime. Today, however, it is recognized as one of the artist’s most important works.

Scroll down for 10 interesting facts about Café terrace at night

Learn 10 facts about Van Gogh’s painting Café terrace at night

Vincent van Gogh Self-portrait

Vincent van Gogh, “Self-portrait”, 1889 (Photo: Szilas via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

It is based on a real place.

Unlike his friend and artistic rival Gauguin, Van Gogh preferred to paint from real life and the… Café terrace at night was no exception. He put his donkey on the corner of the Forum Square and captured the sight of a busy local cafe lit by artificial light. While retaining most of the area’s key features, he left out some architecture and embellished the atmosphere with his own stylistic choices.

“I really enjoy painting on the spot at night. They used to draw and paint the image of the drawing during the day. But I think it suits me to paint the thing right away,” he wrote in a letter to his sister.

Drawing of a cafe terrace at night by Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, Drawing for ‘Café Terrace at Night’, 1888 (Photo: Dallas Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

He first made a drawing of the painting.

Van Gogh was no stranger to hard work, often making numerous preparatory drawings – practicing composition and figures – before picking up his brush. He also made a sketch of the Café terrace at night in ink, rendering the narrow street scene almost the same as in color. The only significant difference between the two pieces seems to be the sky, which in the sketch is filled with dozens of hatches instead of stars.

Starry Night by Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, “The Starry Night,” 1889 (Photo: MoMA via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

It shows the first image of Van Gogh’s iconic starry sky.

The Starry Night is without doubt one of Van Gogh’s most iconic works of art. However, the beautiful canvas was not the first representation of the expressive skies – he first used the star motif in Café terrace at night† In the small space between the architecture, viewers can see a lush blue sky dotted with glittering yellow dots.

Vincent van Gogh painting

Vincent van Gogh, detail from ‘Café Terrace at Night’, 1888 (Photo: Paul Hermans via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

The stars in the painting are in the right place.

According to Van Gogh’s catalog of letters, Café terrace at night known to have been completed in September 1888. However, researchers limited the dates he worked on the piece to the 17th and 18th of the month. With this information, they could compare the arrangement of the stars in Van Gogh’s painting with what they would have looked like at the time. Finally, they realized that the artist had placed the stars exactly where they would have been on those dates.

He has never used the color black anywhere in the painting.

Although a work with ‘by night’ in the title evokes an idea of ​​a darkened scene, Van Gogh managed to make the painting without using the color black. Instead, he relies on a range of different shades of blue and yellow to get the scene across.

“This is a night painting with no black, with nothing but beautiful blues and violets and greens and in this setting the illuminated area itself turns sulfur pale yellow and lemon green,” he explained in a letter.

Detail of Café Terrace at Night by Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, detail from ‘Café Terrace at Night’, 1888 (Photo: Paul Hermans via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Some think the painting is associated with the Last Supper.

In 2013, scientists suggested that Van Gogh’s painting might contain references to the Last Supper. The most notable evidence is the inclusion of 12 figures on the cafe’s terrace — the same number of people described in the Bible — and the yellow “sacred” light surrounding them (similar to a halo).

Cafe Terrace at Night could depict a scene from a novel.

In a letter to his sister Wilhelmina, Van Gogh says:

“You never told me if you had read Guy de Maupassant’s” Bel-ami, and what you think of his talent in general now. I say this because the beginning of Bel-ami is exactly the description of a starry night in Paris, with the illuminated cafes of the boulevard, and it is something like the same subject I just painted.”

Because of this description, art historians believe: Café terrace at night depicts a scene from Maupassant’s novel, which describes a group of people drinking at night, lit by the lights of a building.

Comparison of the paintings of Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin

Left: Vincent van Gogh, “Café Terrace at Night”, 1888 (Photo: Paul Hermans via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
Right: Louis Anquetin, “Avenue of Clichy: 5:00 p.m.,” 1887 (Photo: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

It may also have been inspired by a friend’s painting.

However, the novel Bel-ami may not have been Van Gogh’s only influence. Although he speaks of a starry night in his letter to Wilhelmina, there is no such description in Maupassant’s novel.

Instead, historians believe that the painting’s composition — with its narrow perspective and rich blue color palette — may have been based on the work of a fellow Post-Impressionist, Louis Anquetin. Famous for his cloisonnist style, Anquetin . created Avenue de Clichy: 5 p.m. a year prior to Van Gogh’s work, and there is a striking resemblance between the two pieces.

It is known by three different titles.

Before it became known as the Café terrace at nightthe painting was exhibited under the title Coffee house, in the evening in 1891, and also known as The cafe terrace on the Place du Forum

Cafe Van Gogh in Arles

Photo of Café Van Gogh in Arles, 2016 (Photo: John via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The cafe depicted in the painting still exists.

Although many of the landmarks of famous paintings are no longer to be found, the cafe of the Van Gogh painting not only still exists, but is also still in operation. Renamed Café Van Gogh in the artist’s honor, this destination restaurant was restored in the 1990s to resemble the look of the famous painting.

Related articles:

Newly identified Van Gogh drawing on display for the first time

How Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ came about and continues to inspire artists

Meet Theo van Gogh: Vincent’s younger brother and one of history’s most important art dealers

20 Inspirational Van Gogh Quotes To Keep You Motivated To Create

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