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  • Vincent van Gogh
    Mar 30, 1853 – Jul 29, 1890
  • The Night Cafe - Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colors and emotional impact. He suffered from anxiety and increasingly frequent bouts of mental illness throughout his life, and died largely unknown, at the age of 37, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His fame grew in the years after his death
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The Night Cafe
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  • The Night Cafe

  • Vincent van Gogh
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  • 1888
    Oil on canvas
    70 cm (27.56 in.) x 89 cm (35.04 in.)
    Yale University Art Gallery, United States.

    Night Café by Van Gogh was painted in September 1888 while he was living in Arles. Earlier in the year he had moved to a room at the Café de la Gare, where the room depicted in this painting was. Van Gogh stayed there for a few months over the summer while he furnished what would become known as “The Yellow House”, where he would famously live with Gauguin for a brief time.

    In the center of the canvas Van Gogh shows a billiards table not being used. We see 3 walls of the room with a door opposite the viewer. The walls are lined with tables and chairs, some occupied by figures, hunched over the tables. Most of the six figures are men, but there is a woman at one table. Standing close to the pool table, leaning on another table is a standing figure wearing white, the owner of the café. On the far wall by the door there is a bar with bottles on top and a vase of flowers in the center. Van Gogh’s exaggerated perspective creates disorienting angles and results with the majority of the painting being filled with the deep yellow floor. The walls are a rich red, contrasting with the yellow floors and yellow lights hanging from the ceiling.

    Van Gogh was interested in painting night scenes, as can be seen in his paintings of Starry Night and Café Terrace at Night. Today, we are lucky to know so much about Van Gogh’s paintings by the hundreds of letters that Vincent wrote. In one such letter, he said “the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.” Prior to painting Night Café, Vincent wrote that he was planning to paint the room and the “Night prowlers” as he called those that spent the nights there. Van Gogh was interested in these people that stayed there because they “had no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in.” He imagined that they saw themselves as travelers without a native land, and he himself imagined himself the same way. While he didn’t see himself like them, he imagined having similar feelings.

    In a letter to his brother, Van Gogh called the painting “the ugliest I’ve done” and gave it to Joseph Ginoux the owner of the café as payment for his room. His calling the painting ugly is also a description of the room and the feeling you get from it. In his description of the painting, he uses words like “blood-red” to describe the color on the walls, “battle” to describe the contrast of reds and greens, and refers to those in the room as “ruffians.” The harsh colors and disorienting perspective reflect the overall sadness, bitterness, and loneliness, of those in the room. All of this adds up to an idea of if you are in this café at that late hour, something isn’t going right in your life.

    Van Gogh spent three nights painting this room sleeping during the day. He saw this as showing “terrible human passions” and that one can “ruin themselves” in a place like this café. Vincent didn’t praise this painting in his letters, but spoke of it in the same sentences as The Potato Eaters and The Sower, two paintings that he was very proud of.

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Other paintings by Vincent van Gogh:

Japonaiserie: Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige)
Japonaiserie: Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige)
Church Pew with Worshippers
Church Pew with Worshippers
A Field of Yellow Flowers
A Field of Yellow Flowers
The Road Menders 1889
The Road Menders 1889
Vincent Van GoghThe brilliant color and exuberant vitality of Dutch Post-Impressionist master Vincent van Gogh's paintings stand in stark contrast to his tragic, turbulent life. In 1880, after a series of failed careers, Van Gogh decided to become an artist. Lacking the resources for formal training, he acquired the necessary skills by sketching from books and prints. The artist's earliest works were scenes of peasant life, inspired by Breton and Millet. In 1886, Van Gogh traveled to Paris where he encountered the works of the Impressionists and the fashionable Japanese prints that were immensely popular in Parisian avant-garde circle.

The artist's Paris experience marked a dramatic transformation in his style and the beginning of an extremely productive period. Canvases from this period reflect a radical shift from the somber – paletted realism of his early works to vibrant expressionism. Inspired by the beauty of the area's rural landscapes, Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888. The move coincided with the onset of the artist's struggle with mental illness and, after one particularly severe episode, he committed himself to an asylum at Saint Remy. While hospitalized Van Gogh continued to paint and it was here that one of his most compelling works, "The Starry Night" was completed.

The artist produced over one thousand works during the ten short years he devoted to painting. He sold only one painting prior to his tragic death, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.