Café Terrace at Night

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Café Terrace at Night
Van Gogh - Terrasse des Cafés an der Place du Forum in Arles am Abend1.jpeg
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Year 1888
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 80.7 cm × 65.3 cm (31.8 in × 25.7 in)
Location Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

Café Terrace at Night, also known as The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, is a coloured oil painting executed by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh on an industrially primed canvas of size 25 (Toile de 25 figure) in Arles, France, mid-September 1888. The painting is not signed, but described and mentioned by the artist in three letters.[1] There is also a large pen drawing of the composition which originates from the artist's estate.

Visitors to the site can still stand at the northeastern corner of the Place du Forum, where the artist set up his easel.[2] He looked south towards the artificially lit terrace of the popular coffee house, as well as into the enforced darkness of the rue du Palais leading up to the building structure (to the left, not pictured) and, beyond this structure, the tower of a former church (now Musée Lapidaire). Towards the right, Van Gogh indicated a lighted shop as well, and some branches of the trees surrounding the place—but he omitted the remainders of the Roman monuments just beside this little shop.

The painting is currently at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.


After finishing Café Terrace at Night, Van Gogh wrote a letter to his sister expressing his enthusiasm:

I was only interrupted by my work on a new painting representing the exterior of a night café. On the terrace there are small figures of people drinking. An immense yellow lantern illuminates the terrace, the facade, the side walk and even casts light on the paving stones of the road which take a pinkish violet tone. The gables of the houses, like a fading road below a blue sky studded with stars, are dark blue or violet with a green tree. Here you have a night painting without black, with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green and in this surrounding the illuminated area colours itself sulfur pale yellow and citron green. It amuses me enormously to paint the night right on the spot. Normally, one draws and paints the painting during the daytime after the sketch. But I like to paint the thing immediately. It is true that in the darkness I can take a blue for a green, a blue lilac for a pink lilac, since it is hard to distinguish the quality of the tone. But it is the only way to get away from our conventional night with poor pale whitish light, while even a simple candle already provides us with the richest of yellows and oranges.[3]

He continues, in this same letter,

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.[4]

The café terrace, now 'Le Café La Nuit', at Place du Forum, 13200, July 2016

This excerpt forms the basis of the Van Gogh Museum's curators' opinion that the painting is a depiction "of drinkers in the harsh, bright lights of their illuminated facades" from Maupassant's novel Bel Ami, however, they also note that Maupassant makes no mention of a 'starry sky.' [5]

In 1981, Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov argued that since it “displays not only a night scene but also a funnel-like perspective and dominant blue-yellow tonality” it was at least partially inspired by Louis Anquetin's Avenue de Clichy: 5 o'clock in the evening.[6]

An academic paper presented at IAFOR's 2013 European Conference on Arts & Humanities, however, advanced the theory that van Gogh intended the painting to be a uniquely innovated Last Supper. The paper was subsequently published by The Art Histories Society in the January, 2014 Art History Supplement[7] and the July, 2014 fourteenth volume of The Anistoriton Journal of History, Archaeology and Art History.[8]

Briefly, the paper examines the myriad artistic influences van Gogh was parsing the summer of 1888: his lifelong devotion to and imitation of Jesus Christ; synthesizing Japonism and Cloisonnism with his own plein air techniques; colorizing Jean-François Millet's pious genre scenes with Eugène Delacroix's luminous palette (see Boats du Rhône); "search-for-sacred-realism" correspondence with his artist friend Émile Bernard; Thomas Carlyle and Boccaccio's examples of dressing old ideas in new clothes; an Émile Burnouf article claiming Buddhist missionaries sowed the seeds Essenes later reaped as Christianity; failed attempts creating his own Christ in the Garden of Olives; two proximal Last Supper studies (Interior of a Restaurant in Arles and Interior of the Restaurant Carrel in Arles) featuring straw-bottomed chairs he'd just purchased by the dozen (hoping to start a commune of twelve "artist-apostles" at his Yellow House); culminating with his composition of twelve diners drenched in a yellow halo surrounding a Rembrandtesque server framed by a crucifix at the vanishing point of the picture; it's concluded his original starry night is a Symbolist's Last Supper.

Although van Gogh never explicitly mentioned his intent in any existing letter, he did write his brother Theo two weeks later, "That doesn't stop me having a terrible need for - dare 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 living figures of the pals."[9]

Night effects[edit]

When exhibited for the first time, in 1891, the painting was entitled Coffeehouse, in the evening (Café, le soir).

This is the first painting in which he used starry backgrounds; he went on to paint star-filled skies in Starry Night Over the Rhone (painted the same month), and the better known The Starry Night a year later. Van Gogh also painted a starlight background in Portrait of Eugène Boch. Van Gogh mentioned the Cafe Terrace painting in a letter written to Eugène Boch on October 2, 1888, writing he had painted "a view of the café on place du Forum, where we used to go, painted at night" (emphasis van Gogh's).[10]

In popular culture[edit]

The painting and the café were both featured in the 1956 film Lust for Life starring Kirk Douglas and later in "Vincent and the Doctor" (2010), the tenth episode in the fifth series of British science fiction television series Doctor Who.[11] A café in Croatia was redesigned to look like the café in the painting.


  1. ^ See, Advanced Search
  2. ^ The site was refurbished in 1990/91 to replicate Van Gogh's painting.
  3. ^ Letter (in French) (English translation) from Vincent van Gogh to Wilhelmina van Gogh, Arles, 9 and 16 September 1888. Accessed 1 May 2006.
  4. ^ Letter (in French) (English translation) from Vincent van Gogh to Wilhelmina van Gogh, Arles, 9 and 16 September 1888. Accessed 1 May 2006.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Welsh-Ovcharov, Bogomila: Vincent van Gogh and the Birth of Cloisonism (!), Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 24 January - 22 March 1981 and Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, 9 April - 14 June 1989 ISBN 0-919876-66-8
  7. ^ See Art History Supplement vol. 4, issue 1
  8. ^ See Anistoriton Journal of History, Archaeology and Art History Volume 14
  9. ^
  10. ^ Letter to Eugene Boch mentioning the Cafe Terrace
  11. ^ "A Brush with Genius". Doctor Who Confidential. Series 5. Episode 10. 5 June 2010. BBC. BBC Three. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°40′39″N 4°37′38″E / 43.67750°N 4.62722°E / 43.67750; 4.62722