Saturday, January 23, 2010

Art: Vincent Van Gogh / The Night Cafe

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890), letters to his brother Theo about The Night Café, painted in 1888:

"Today I am probably going to begin on the interior of the café where I have a room, by gas light, in the evening. It is what they call here a “café de nuit” (they are fairly frequent here), staying open all night. “Night prowlers” can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in.

I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. The room is blood red and dark yellow with a green billiard table in the middle; there are four lemon-yellow lamps with a glow of orange and green. Everywhere there is a clash and contrast of the most alien reds and greens, in the figures of little sleeping hooligans, in the empty dreary room, in violet and blue. The blood-red and the yellow-green of the billiard table, for instance, contrast with the soft tender Louis XV green of the counter, on which there is a rose nosegay. The white clothes of the landlord, watchful in a corner of that furnace, turn lemon-yellow, or pale luminous green.

In my picture of the “Night Café” I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime. So I have tried to express, as it were, the powers of darkness in a low public house, by soft Louis XV green and malachite, contrasting with yellow-green, and all this in an atmosphere like a devil's furnace of pale sulphur."

The café depicted is a café in Arles in which van Gogh had a room. In other letters he writes of searching for peace in his life: “I only wish that someone could prove to us something calming which comforted us, so that… we could go forward without losing ourselves in the solitude or nothingness.” His painting of the café shows his struggle between the artificial pleasures on offer (absinthe, prostitutes) and his search for peace and something more.

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