Vincent van Gogh – Cafe terrace on the place de Forum


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Vincent Van Gogh – Cafe terrace on the place de Forum – Evening cafe

Year created:1888
Original size:81 x 65 cm
Painting style:Post-Impressionism
Original technique:Oil on canvas
Located:Kröller-Müller Collection, Otterlo


Even today, in the north-eastern part of the Place du Forum in the city of Arles, visitors gather at the place where the artist set up his easel. South of this place stood the terrace of a popular cafe, which Van Gogh painted in 1888. The café terrace is one of the first motifs that Van Gogh painted during his visit the city of Arles. With this painting, one of the most fruitful periods of the painter’s career began.

The painting is a simple and calm scene, which is still characterized by the expressionist use of color, but the painting does not have the frenetic movements that characterized Van Gogh‘s later works.

Visitors to the city stand at the northeast corner of the Place du Forum, where the artist set up his easel. The city was renovated in 1990 and 1991, as a recreation of his image. The view is south towards the artificially lit terrace of a popular cafe, as well as the enforced darkness of Rue du Palais, which led to the building (left, not pictured) and beyond that building to the tower of the former church, now the Musée Lapidaire.

To the right, Van Gogh indicated a lighted shop and some branches of trees surrounding the place, but left out the remains of the Roman monuments right next to this shop.

When he finished Café Terrace, he wrote a letter to his sister expressing his excitement:

“I was busy with a picture where I was painting the exterior of an evening cafe. On the terrace there are small figures of people drinking. A huge yellow lamp illuminates the terrace, the facade, the pavement and covers the cobblestone street with light that turns purple -pink hue. The walls of the houses on the street leading away under the blue star-studded sky are dark blue or purple, with a green tree. The picture is of a night without black. Nothing but beautiful blues and purples and greens, and in in this environment, the illuminated square is a pale sulphur, lemon green. I really enjoy painting on location at night. In the past, they drew a sketch and painted the painting during the day. But I find it convenient to paint directly. It’s true that I can mistake blue for green in the dark, and blue-lilac for pink-lilac, for you cannot distinctly discern the nature of the tone. But this is the only way to depart from the usual black night with a dim, pale, and whitish light, while the mere candle alone gives us the richest yellows and orange color.

The outline of the starry sky is key to the whole. Through the sharp form, the poetic idea of the work is developed – the contrast of the cafe and the sky at night. In the silhouette of the cafe’s orange floor and neighboring windows and doors, we discover the inverted shape of the blue sky. Scattered stars match the elliptical tables below.

Interesting is the strong contrast between the warm yellow, green and orange colors under the awning and the deep blue of the starry sky, which is enhanced by the dark blue color of the houses in the background. Van Gogh was very pleased with this effect: “I believe that the abundance of light from the gas lamp, which is yellow and orange, intensifies the blue.”

Van Gogh never titled and signed the painting. However, he specifically mentioned the painting in three correspondences, so art historians are convinced that it was painted by him. Vincent painted the cafe on location and not from memory like some of his other works.

The picture has different titles. At its public exhibition in 1891, the work was entitled “Café, le soir” or Evening Cafe. Another name is “Café Terrace on the Place du Forum.”

“Evening cafe”is one of three paintings in Arles that depict Van Gogh‘s signature sky full of stars. Starry night over the Rhone and Starry Night complete the trilogy.

Despite the fact that it is a night scene, Van Gogh did not use black in the painting. In a letter to his sister, he wrote “that for him the night is richer than the day”.

The positions of the stars in the night sky “Café Terrace at Night” are accurate according to the statements of the astronomers.

van Gogh Cafe Terrace

“Café Terrace at Night” ranks second in the list of the ten most reproduced art paintings from 2000 to 2020. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” holds first place.

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