Vincent van Gogh painted some of his most famous paintings while he was staring at the night sky. This painting would become the first in one of his most famous series.
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Café Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh, one of his most fascinating Post-Impressionist works of art.
1. It was painted in a square in Arles
The painting depicts a night scene in the northeastern corner of the Place du Forum in Arles, a town in the south of France. We are looking towards a Café which is lit by a big lamp and a starry sky above it.
People are sitting on the terrace and enjoy a drink while the colors of the night reflect on the cobblestones of the street. It’s a relaxing scene that van Gogh clearly enjoyed painting.
2. Van Gogh created it about 7 months after arriving in Arles
Vincent van Gogh was living in Paris in early 1888 but got tired from life in the big city. he decided to move to the south of France to start an art colony. He started painting fervently upon arrival while staying at the Yellow House in the small town, which is just a few streets away from the Café depicted in this painting.
His time in Arles would become one of his most prolific periods, resulting in over 300 paintings and drawings. He arrived in Arles in February of 1888 and painted Café Terrace at Night in September of that year.
3. How big is Café 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. The painting isn’t signed but described in van Gogh’s letters
Vincent van Gogh is famously known for the numerous letters he sent to his family and friends, and mainly to his brother Theo. In these letters, we can learn about the painting process and the development of Vincent as an artist.
While the painting isn’t signed, he makes clear reference to it in 3 of these letters. In one of these letters, which he sent to his sister Wilhelmina, he clearly describes what he was painting at the 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.Van Gogh describing Café Terrace at Night.
5. He made a drawing of the scene before he started to paint
Before he started to paint, Vincent made a drawing of the scene. This drawing can now be found at the Dallas Museum of Art and is part of the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection which is displayed in a replica of the 1,400 square meters (15,000 square feet) villa in which they lived in France.
This collection consists of paintings and drawings of various famous painters such as Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Paul Cézanne, as well as multiple sculptures of famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
6. He created the painting on location, not from memory
One of the most interesting facts about Café Terrace at Night is that van Gogh painted it on location, which means he set up his easel on the northeastern corner of the Place du Forum and painted away.
About this he wrote to his sister 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 straightaway.Van Gogh about painting Café Terrace at Night.
7. The café on the Place du Forum still exists and was renamed
One of the most remarkable facts about Café Terrace at Night is that the Café depicted in the painting still exists today! It was completely restored to its original look in the early 1990s as well.
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 plaque.
Quite amazing, don’t you think?
8. Van Gogh didn’t paint everything he saw
While the main focus of the painting is on the terrace itself and the starry sky above, there are also certain other elements in the painting. This includes the dark street called the “Rue du Palais” with on its corner a brightly lit store. In the background, we can 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 that van Gogh purposely left out of the painting, most probably not to draw any attention to them.
9. The depicted stars are astronomically correct
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 would have appeared on that particular 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 September 17 and 18 of the year 1888.
10. Van Gogh didn’t use any black, even though it’s a scene at night
One of the most amazing facts about Café Terrace at Night is that Vincent didn’t use any black. We know that he was a fervent admirer of the night and even claimed that the night had a lot more color than the day. The lamp that lights up the terrace intensifies the colors of the night, about which Vincent commented:
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.Van Gogh about his use of color in the painting.
11. It might have been inspired by a novel and another painting
In one of his letters, Vincent comments on 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. He commented about this:
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.Van Gogh referencing the novel.
It’s also possible that van Gogh was inspired by a work from a colleague, Louis Anquetin’s painting called “Avenue de Clichy: 5 o’clock in the evening,” which looks quite similar to Café Terrace at Night and uses the same color schemes.
12. One study concludes that it has a reference to the Last Supper
A more remarkable conclusion was drawn in 2013 when scholar Jared Baxter submitted a paper claiming there was a link between Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper, one of his most famous works.
When looking closely at the people sitting on the terrace, it indeed appears as if there’s a central figure with 12 people surrounding him and a shadowy figure in the doorway, who represents Judas. There’s a cross in the background of this particular area of the painting as well.
The link was made through a letter written by Vincent to his brother Theo in which he referred to Café Terrace at Night and said that he has a “tremendous need for, shall I say the word – for religion.”
13. The painting had a couple of different names initially
The painting was exhibited for the first time in 1891 but was presented with a different name: Coffeehouse, in the evening (Café, le soir).
In its history, it has also gone by the name of “The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum,” before receiving its current official name “Café Terrace at Night.”
14. He would go on to paint two of his most famous paintings with the same sky
One of the most fascinating facts about Café Terrace at Night is that it’s the first of his 3 works that utilize a similar Post-Impressionistic starry sky at night. These 3 paintings would turn out to become some of his best-recognized paintings in his oeuvre.
The other two paintings with this background are “Starry Night” and “Starry Night over the Rhône.”
15. It’s located in a museum in van Gogh’s home country
The painting is can be found in Otterlo, a town in the province of Gelderland in the Netherlands. It’s on display at the Kröller-Müller Museum together with some of his other famous works such as “The Potato Eaters” and “Country Road in Provence by Night.”