The Night Café, 1888 is currently held at the Yale University Art Gallery, in New Haven Connecticut. It is one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings and one of the best known from his time in Arles.
In The Night Café we see the late night crowd at the Café de la Gare, an all night tavern run by Joseph-Michel Ginox and wife, Marie, located near Van Gogh’s Yellow House. In a letter on August 6, 1888 Van Gogh told his brother, Theo,
“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.”
The painting depicts five destitute café customers sitting at tables and drinking together along the walls while a waiter, possibly Joseph-Michel, stands beside the pool table near the center of the room facing the viewer. Van Gogh applied the paint thickly and used vivid contrasting colors creating a green ceiling, red upper walls and a yellow floor. There are gaslights hanging from the ceiling emitting a yellow glow and casting “an immense shadow on the floor” under the pool table. There are many lines throughout the room which lead towards the door on the back wall.
Van Gogh described the café painting to his brother, Theo, in a letter on September 9, 1888,
“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 harsh blue-greens, and all this in an atmosphere like a devil’s furnace, of pale sulphur.
And all with an appearance of Japanese gaiety, and the good nature of Tartarin.”
Though not one of his more beautiful paintings, The Night Café expresses the individual sense of loneliness and despair, depicting humanity in its simplicity. In his letter to Theo, Van Gogh believed that Monsieur Tersteeg would respond to the painting saying that, “it was delirium tremens in full swing.”