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Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night, The

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Details
Oil on canvas
81.0 x 65.5 cm.
Arles: September, 1888
F 467, JH 1580

Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum

History
Provenance
Exhibitions

Analysis
See below

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Vincent van Gogh's The Cafe Terrace stands as one of the painter's most remarkable works. It is also, without question, one of the most famous produced in Van Gogh's brief but prolific career.

This work is the first in a trilogy1 of paintings which feature starlit skies. Starry Night Over the Rhone came within a month, followed by the popular Starry Night painted the next year in Saint-Rémy. An interesting companion to these three can be found in the Portrait of Eugene Boch (painted in the same month as Cafe Terrace and Starry Night Over the Rhone)--note the starry motif in the work's background.

Vincent was enthusiastic about The Cafe Terrace and wrote to his sister Wil:

In point of fact I was interrupted these days by my toiling on a new picture representing the outside of a night cafe. On the terrace there are tiny figures of people drinking. An enormous yellow lantern sheds its light on the terrace, the house and the sidewalk, and even causes a certain brightness on the pavement of the street, which takes a pinkish violet tone. The gable-topped fronts of the houses in a street stretching away under a blue sky spangled with stars are dark blue or violet and there is a green tree. Here you have a night picture without any black in it, done with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green, and in these surroundings the lighted square acquires a pale sulphur and greenish citron-yellow colour. It amuses me enormously to paint the night right on the spot. They used to draw and paint the picture in the daytime after the rough sketch. But I find satisfaction in painting things immediately.
(W7: 9 and 16 September 1888)

Vincent goes on to tell Wil that there is a description of a similar cafe in the book Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant: " . . . a starlit night in Paris with the brightly lighted cafes of the Boulevard, and this is approximately the same subject I just painted.".2

Van Gogh's works are often inspired by literary references or by the works of other painters (see his copies after Jean-François Millet). Cafe Terrace has a similar style and compositional structure to Avenue de Clichy in the Evening by Anquetin. Regardless of whether Van Gogh was directly inspired by Anquetin's work, the composition of Cafe Terrace is unique among all of Van Gogh's oeuvre. Note how the lines of composition all point directly to the centre of the work where a horse and carriage are found. Everything seems to be drawn inward, like a vortex, and yet the overall tone suggests tranquillity and not turmoil. The overall scheme is dark, but without the slightest trace of black.

More than one hundred years after Vincent painted it, the Cafe Terrace is still in Arles serving drinks to its thirsty patrons. It's now called the Cafe Van Gogh, appropriately enough, and has been remodelled to appear as it did more than a century ago--yellow-lit awning and all. I stopped and had a cognac when I visited Arles in 1995 (you won't find absinthe on the menu any more) and thought of Vincent, so close by in spirit, working feverishly (but contentedly) under the stars.


1. The idea of a "trilogy" of starlit paintings is a constructed one. Vincent himself never envisioned such a trilogy.
2. Vincent is mistaken--in fact, the Maupassant reference he is thinking of is found in the novel Yvette.


Provenance

Owner City Country Date acquired
Albert Aurier Paris France  
S. Williame-Aurier Chateauroux France 5 October 1892
H. Kröller-Müller The Hague Netherlands June, 1914
Kröller-Müller Museum Otterlo Netherlands  


Exhibitions

Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1891 Paris (2) France Galerie Le Barc de Bouteville 1re Exposition des Peintres Impressionnistes et Symbolistes  
 
76
1927 Basel Switzerland Kunsthalle Vincent van Gogh. 143 Werke aus der Sammlung Kröller im Haag 18 June 1927 4 September 1927 110
1927 Bern Switzerland Kunsthalle Vincent van Gogh. 143 Werke aus der Sammlung Kröller im Haag 7 September 1927 17 October 1927 110
1927 Brussels Belgium Museum voor Moderne Kunst Vincent van Gogh. 140 werken uit de verzameling Kröller 5 November 1927 4 December 1927 110
1928 Düsseldorf Germany Städtische Kunsthalle Ausgewählte Kunstwerke aus der Sammlung Frau H. Kröller-Müller, Den Haag 1 August 1928 23 September 1928 178
1928 Karlsruhe Germany Badische Kunsthalle Vincent van Gogh. 150 Werke aus der Sammlung Kröller-Müller im Haag 30 September 1928 9 December 1928 113
1928-29 Berlin Germany National-Galerie Vincent van Gogh. 143 Werke aus dem Besitz von Frau Kröller-Müller im Haag 20 December 1928 28 February 1929 115
1929 Hamburg Germany Kunstverein Vincent van Gogh. Sammlung Kröller-Müller im Haag 14 March 1929 21 May 1929 66
1930 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh en zijn tijdgenooten 6 September 1930 2 November 1930 222
1935-36 New York United States Museum of Modern Art Vincent van Gogh 5 November 1935 5 January 1936 35
1936 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 11 January 1936 10 February 1936 35
1936 Boston United States Museum of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh 19 February 1936 15 March 1936 35
1936 Cleveland (1) United States Cleveland Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 25 March 1936 19 April 1936 35
1936 San Francisco United States California Palace of the Legion of Honor Vincent van Gogh 28 April 1936 24 May 1936 35
1936 Kansas City United States William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum Vincent van Gogh 9 June 1936 10 July 1936 35
1936 Minneapolis United States Minneapolis Institute of Arts Vincent van Gogh 20 July 1936 17 August 1936 35
1936 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh 26 August 1936 23 September 1936 35
1936 Detroit United States Detroit Institute of Arts Vincent van Gogh 6 October 1936 28 October 1936 35
1945 The Hague Netherlands Pulchri Studio Den Haag eert de Nederlandse schilders van de 19e eeuw 25 August 1945 30 September 1945 33
1946 Liège Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 12 October 1946 3 November 1946 114
1946 Brussels Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 9 November 1946 19 December 1946 114
1946-47 Mons Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 27 December 1946  
114
1947 Paris (1) France Musée de l'Orangerie Vincent van Gogh 24 January 1947 15 March 1947 110
1947 Geneva Switzerland Musée Rath 172 oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh 22 March 1947 20 April 1947 110
1947 Basel Switzerland Kunsthalle Basel Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 11 October 1947 23 November 1947 65
1947-48 London United Kingdom Tate Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 10 December 1947 14 January 1948 51
1948 Birmingham United Kingdom City Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 24 January 1948 14 February 1948 51
1948 Glasgow Scotland Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 21 February 1948 14 March 1948 51
1949-50 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 21 October 1949 15 January 1950 82
1950 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 1 February 1950 16 April 1950 82
1952 Milan Italy Palazzo Reale Van Gogh. Dipinti e disegni 23 February 1952 13 May 1952 84
1953 The Hague Netherlands Haags Gemeentemuseum Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 30 March 1953 17 May 1953 132
1953 Otterlo Netherlands Kröller-Müller Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 24 May 1953 19 July 1953 109
1953 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 23 July 1953 20 September 1953 109
1953 Saint Louis United States City Art Museum of Saint Louis Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 17 October 1953 13 December 1953 104
1954 Toledo United States Toledo Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 7 March 1953 30 April 1953 104
1954 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 2 January 1954 28 February 1954 104
1956 Eindhoven Netherlands Stedelijk van Abbemuseum Vincent van Gogh from the Collection of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller 28 January 1956 12 March 1956 36
1956 Munich Germany Haus der Kunst Vincent van Gogh 19 October 1956 16 December 1956 130
1957 Essen Germany Villa Hügel Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Leben und Schaffen. Dokumentation Gemälde, Zeichnungen 16 October 1957 15 December 1957 302
1958 Vienna Austria Oesterreichische Galerie Vincent van Gogh from the Collection Kröller-Müller, Otterlo  
 
83
1958 Tokyo Japan Tokyo National Museum Vincent van Gogh from the Collection Kröller-Müller, Otterlo 15 October 1958 25 November 1958 101
1958 Kyoto Japan Municipal Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh from the Collection Kröller-Müller, Otterlo 3 December 1958 27 December 1958 101
1959 Aix-en-Provence France Pavillion de Vendôme Van Gogh en Provence 3 October 1959 30 November 1959 14
1960 Montreal Canada Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 6 October 1960 6 November 1960 40
1960 Ottawa Canada National Gallery of Canada Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 17 November 1960 18 December 1960 40
1960-61 Winnipeg Canada Winnipeg Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 29 December 1960 31 January 1961 40
1961 Toronto Canada Art Gallery of Toronto Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 10 February 1961 12 March 1961 40
1971 Moscow Russia Pushkin Museum Vincent van Gogh 15 April 1971 30 May 1971 75
1971 St. Petersburg Russia Hermitage Vincent van Gogh 13 June 1971 31 July 1971 75
1981 Toronto Canada Art Gallery of Ontario Vincent van Gogh and the Birth of Cloisonism 24 January 1981 22 March 1981 22
1981 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh and the Birth of Cloisonism 9 April 1981 14 June 1981 22
1990 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen 30 March 1990 29 July 1990 59
2004 Seattle United States Seattle Art Museum From Van Gogh to Mondrian: Modern Art from the Kröller-Müller Museum 29 May 2004 12 September 2004  
2004-05 Atlanta (1) United States High Museum of Art From Van Gogh to Mondrian: Modern Art from the Kröller-Müller Museum 19 October 2004 16 January 2005  
2005 Tokyo Japan National Museum of Modern Art Van Gogh in Context 23 March 2005 22 May 2005  
2005 Osaka Japan National Museum of Modern Art Van Gogh in Context 31 May 2005 18 July 2005  
2005 Nagoya Japan Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art Van Gogh in Context 26 July 2005 25 September 2005  

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