Did you know that Vincent van Gogh loved to paint at night? He explained it to us with this sentence.”I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” Vincent van Gogh made his most famous paintings while he was staring at the night sky, as in his ‘Starry Night’. One of Vincent van Gogh’s most fascinating works of art, Cafe Terrace at Night, he created with the vision of a relaxed spectator enjoying the charm of his surroundings at night without any moral concern.
Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night is an ideal example of the artist’s imagination and excellent handling of light. Although ‘light’ and ‘night’ seem to be contradictory words, the sparkling nights filled with stars in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings always greet the audience!
We tried to analyze the facts, impressive story, and mystery of one of Vincent van Gogh’s most fascinating works of art, Café Terrace at Night, from a different perspective, under the title of ’16 Secrets of Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh’.
16 Facts About Café Terrace At Night By Vincent Van Gogh
1- It was painted in the square of the town of Arles, in the south of France.
In this painting by Vincent van Gogh, we see a cafe lit by a big lamp and a starry sky above it.
While the colors of the night reflect on the cobblestones of the street, people sit on the terrace and enjoy a drink. We can say that Van Gogh described a relaxing scene in which he clearly enjoyed painting, with his impressive colors and his own style.
2- About 7 Months After Arriving in Arles, Van Gogh painted the Café Terrace at Night.
Vincent van Gogh was living in Paris in early 1888, but he got tired of big city life.
He decided to move to the south of France in order to create an art colony. He was staying at the Yellow House, just a few blocks from the Café depicted in this painting.
In one of the letters he sent to his sister Wilhelmina, he clearly explained where he stayed:
“My house here is painted outside in the yellow of fresh butter, with garish green shutters, and it’s in the full sun on the square, where there’s a green garden of plane trees, oleanders, acacias. And inside, it’s all whitewashed, and the floor’s of red bricks. And the intense blue sky above. Inside, I can live and breathe, and think and paint. And it seems to me that I should go further into the south rather than going back up north because I have too great a need for the strong heat so that my blood circulates normally. I’m in really much better health here than in Paris.”
He came to Arles in February 1888 and painted Cafe Terrace at Night in September of the same year.
Vincent van Gogh’s time in Arles became one of his most prolific, and he produced more than 300 paintings and drawings.
3- Dimensions of Cafe Terrace at Night.
This oil on canvas painting isn’t the biggest in his collection and has dimensions of 80.7 × 65.3 centimeters (31.8 × 25.7 inches), which is just a bit smaller than most of his paintings.
4- Before Van Gogh painted the work, he made a sketch of the scene.
Vincent van Gogh made a sketch of the scene before he started painting it. This drawing is currently in the Dallas Museum of Art as part of the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection.
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This collection consists of paintings and drawings by various famous painters such as Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Paul Cézanne, as well as multiple sculptures by the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
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5- Van Gogh did not sign the painting, but in the letters he wrote, he often described the cafe and his work.
Vincent van Gogh is famous for the numerous letters he sent to his family and friends, especially his brother Theo. In these letters, we can really learn about the painting process and the development of Vincent as an artist.
Although van Gogh did not sign his work, Cafe Terrace at Night, in one of the letters he sent to his sister Wilhelmina, he clearly explained what he was drawing at that time:
“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. “
In the same letter, in which Van Gogh mentions his painting, which he both named and summarized as ‘Terrace of a café at night (Place du Forum), Arles, At Night’, which he completed at the age of 35:
“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.”
6-Van Gogh Didn’t Paint Everything He Sees On Stage!
While the main focus of the painting is the terrace and the starry sky above, there are other details in the painting.
These details include the dark street called ‘Rue du Palais’ with a brightly lit store at the corner. In the background, you can also see the tower of the Musée Lapidaire, which was a church at the time the painting was created.
Next to the store, of which the building is partially covered with branches of a tree, there were Ancient Roman monuments which van Gogh purposely left out of the painting, most probably not to draw any attention to them.
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7- The positions of the stars in the night sky of ‘Café Terrace at Night’ are accurate, according to astronomical data.
One of the most fascinating facts about Café Terrace at Night is that Vincent van Gogh painted the stars in the sky exactly as they appeared that night.
This also means that researchers have been able to determine the exact date that Vincent van Gogh painted Café Terrace at Night, which was on the night of 17 and 18 September 1888.
8- It might have been inspired by a novel and another painting.
In one of his letters, Vincent makes a comment about a novel called ‘Bel-Ami’ written by Guy de Maupassant. In this novel, there’s a description of a boulevard in Paris with lighted cafés.
“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.”
It is also possible that he was inspired by a painting by Louis Anquetin, a colleague of Van Gogh’s, ‘Avenue de Clichy: 5 o’clock in the Night’, which is quite similar to Café Terrace at Night and uses the same color schemes.
9- Was Van Gogh inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper?
Scholar Jared Baxter published an article in 2013. In his article, he claimed that Vincent van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night is a link between one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works, The Last Supper.
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When looking closely at the people sitting on the terrace, it indeed appears as there’s a central figure with 12 people surrounding him and a shadowy figure in the doorway, who represents Judas. There is a cross in the background of this special area of the painting.
In Vincent’s letter to his brother Theo on September 29, 1888, referring to the Cafe Terrace at Night:
“And it does me good to do what’s difficult. That doesn’t stop me from having a tremendous need for, shall I say the word — for religion — so I go outside at night to paint the stars, and I always dream a painting like that, with a group of lively figures.”
10- The café in the painting is still in existence.
The café in the painting is still in existence, renamed the Café Van Gogh.
One of the most remarkable facts about Cafe Terrace at Night is that the cafe depicted in the painting still exists today. In the early 1990s, it regained its completely original appearance.
It was also renamed in honor of the artist and is now called the ‘Café van Gogh’ and the location where he sat to create the painting is marked with a concrete block.
Isn’t it interesting to think that you are sipping your coffee in this cafe, right in the middle of art history?
Click here to tour Van Gogh Cafe virtually on Google Maps.
11- Vincent van Gogh painted the Café Terrace scene on location rather than from memory.
One of the most interesting facts about Café Terrace at Night is that Vincent van Gogh painted it on-site, meaning that he set up his drawing stand in the northeast corner of the Place du Forum and painted it. For this reason, a concrete block was placed on the painted side of Cafe van Gogh.
About this, he wrote to his sister (Willemien van Gogh) that:
“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 straight away.”
12- Although a night scene, the painting is devoid of the color black.
Another of the most surprising facts about Cafe Terrace at Night is that Van Gogh never used the color black!
We also know that Vincent van Gogh was an ardent admirer of night paintings, even claiming that night is much more colorful than a day.
After finishing Café Terrace at Night, Van Gogh wrote to his sister in a letter expressing his enthusiasm:
“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 colored pale sulfur, 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.”
13- The painting had different names.
The painting was exhibited for the first time in 1891 but was presented to the visitors under a different name. The coffee house, in the evening. (Café, le soir).
It was also known as The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, before taking its current name, Café Terrace at Night.
14- He painted two more masterpieces with the same sky.
One of the most fascinating facts about Cafe Terrace at Night is that it was the first of his works to replicate the Post-Impressionist night, starry sky scene that he did.
These 3 paintings would turn out to become some of his best-recognized paintings in his oeuvre.
Two other paintings with this starry sky are Starry Night and Starry Night over the Rhône.
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15- ‘Café Terrace at Night’ ranks second in a list of the top ten most reproduced artworks from 2000 to 2010.
The painting Café Terrace at Night is in second place in the last of the top ten most reproduced works from 2000 to 2010.
Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ holds first place.
16- The Café Terrace at Night is in the Kröller-Müller Museum.
The painting is located in Otterlo, a town in Gelderland, Netherlands. It is displayed in the Kröller-Müller Museum along with other famous works such as ‘The Potato Eaters’ and ‘Road with Cypress and Star’.
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- Featured Image Source: Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images & Alessandro Bonvini/Flickr Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0