The Cafe Terrace at Night

The Cafe Terrace at Night

"Now there’s a painting of night without black. With nothing but beautiful blue, violet and green, and in these surroundings the lighted square is coloured pale sulphur, lemon green. I enormously enjoy painting on the spot at night" To Willemien van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 9 and about Friday, 14 September 1888
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Painting Date
13th of September 1888
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Vincent may have began with the colors of Anquetin’s work from Paris but he decides on different shades and volumes.  By painting deep cobalt blues and brilliant yellows, he lights the night with his scene.  The sky is conceived by wide crosshatching strokes of varying shades of blue to near white in the stars depicted.  The diagonal strokes of yellow have their shade repeated in the star centers which drive the viewer from one to the other and back again.  Reflections of the dark night sky and the gas lamp’s glow are reflected off the curved stroked cobbles in the foreground.  Vincent becomes enamored with depicting night scenes when he is in Arles and this along with “The Night Cafe” please him in their result.

The compare and related images are a drawing Vincent made of the same scene and a painting by Louis Anquetin done in Paris about a year and a half before.
“I started this letter several days ago, up to here, and I’m picking it up again now. I was interrupted precisely by the work that a new painting of the outside of a café in the evening has been giving me these past few days. On the terrace, there are little figures of people drinking. A huge yellow lantern lights the terrace, the façade, the pavement, and even projects light over the cobblestones of the street, which takes on a violet-pink tinge. The gables of the houses on a street that leads away under the blue sky studded with stars are dark blue or violet, with a green tree. Now there’s a painting of night without black. With nothing but beautiful blue, violet and green, and in these surroundings the lighted square is coloured pale sulphur, lemon green. I enormously enjoy painting on the spot at night. In the past they used to draw, and paint the picture from the drawing in the daytime. But I find that it suits me to paint the thing straightaway. It’s quite true that I may take a blue for a green in the dark, a blue lilac for a pink lilac, since you can’t make out the nature of the tone clearly. But it’s the only way of getting away from the conventional black night with a poor, pallid and whitish light, while in fact a mere candle by itself gives us the richest yellows and oranges. I’ve also done a new portrait of myself, as a study, in which I look like a Japanese. You never told me if you had read Guy de Maupassant’s Bel-ami, and what you now think of his talent in general. I say this because the beginning of Bel-ami is precisely the description of a starry night in Paris, with the lighted cafés of the boulevard, and it’s something like the same subject that I’ve painted just now.
Speaking of Guy de Maupassant, I find what he does really beautiful, and I really recommend that you read everything that he’s done. Zola — Maupassant, De Goncourt, one has to have read them as thoroughly as possible in order to get a reasonably clear idea of the modern novel. Have you read Balzac? I’m reading him again here.

My dear sister, I believe that at present we must paint nature’s rich and magnificent aspects; we need good cheer and happiness, hope and love.  The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant colour, well arranged, resplendent.   Jewellers are old and ugly too, before they know how to arrange precious stones well. And arranging colours in a painting to make them shimmer and stand out through their contrasts, that’s something like arranging jewels or — designing costumes.”

To Willemien van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 9 and about Friday, 14 September 1888

“That’s the first painting this week. The second shows the outside of a café, lit on the terrace outside by a large gas-lamp in the blue night, with a patch of starry blue sky.”

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 16 September 1888

“And a view of the café on place du Forum, where we used to go, painted at night.”

To Eugène Boch. Arles, Tuesday, 2 October 1888

A related image is Anquetin’s “Avenue du Clichy, Five O’clock at Night” which was exhibited several times by Louis at Paris exhibits in 1888 (salon des independents) and 1889 (les xx?) – Vincent and Theo would have known this piece well by the time Vincent paints the night cafe.  Here the Cleveland Museum of Art describes its roots and subtelties:

closeupjpg-19f8186b46d508d5.jpg

Anquetin arrived in Paris in 1882 and was soon friendly with Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard. His work reveals their influence as well as that of Degas and Japanese prints. The scene here is the intersection of the Avenue de Clichy and the Avenue de St. Ouen in Paris, near Anquetin’s home in Paris. He transforms this ordinary street corner into an eerie environment through the use of color – dominant blue areas edged with gold and black contour lines – to suggest the gathering dusk and the glow of gas lamps.

Louis Anquetin (French, 1861 – 1932)
Avenue de Clichy, 1887
Oil and paper on canvas, 27 1/8 x 21 in.
The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1966.7
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT

“The work sweeps a viewer into a rainy twilight in Paris, where a gaslit butcher shop casts a warm glow on a crowded sidewalk. Heather Lemonedes, the museum’s associate curator of prints and drawings, who co-organized the Gauguin show, said Anquetin lived nearby and frequented neighborhood cafes with friends including Toulouse-Lautrec.

“Avenue de Clichy” was recognized as a seminal work in its day. In 1889, the painting appeared in the Volpini exhibition at the Universal Exposition, the show that is the focus of the Cleveland museum’s exhibition.

Anquetin’s painting sums up influences from friends including Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. Oddly, Anquetin soon abandoned his avant-garde stance and began painting turgid allegories a la Peter Paul Rubens. The Cleveland exhibition is a rare opportunity to savor a masterpiece that marks the high point of a career that peaked early.”

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Another related image is a remarkable photograph taken from a similar perspective of the Cafe on the Place du Forum where Vincent painted many nights before:

http://commondatastorage.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/2781324.jpg

 

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“Now there’s a painting of night without black. With nothing but beautiful blue, violet and green, and in these surroundings the lighted square is coloured pale sulphur, lemon green. I enormously enjoy painting on the spot at night”

To Willemien van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 9 and about Friday, 14 September 1888

 

Painting, Oil on Canvas – 62 x 47 cm size 25 figure
Arles, France: September 13, 1888
Kröller-Müller Museum
Otterlo, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 467, JH: 1580

Where Vincent Was:
Arles

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