Van Gogh painted The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, or Café Terrace at Night, in mid-September of 1888, and it has become one of his most successful works. Following a summer in which he had spent time painting in the fields surrounding Arles, Van Gogh began to experiment with painting en plein air at night. Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night is his first painting to explore the starry night background.
In the painting, Van Gogh uses warm colors to depict a café in Arles. Strong lines throughout the composition all point toward the center creating an interesting depth and structure. The painting obviously depicts nighttime and has a dark scheme, yet when closely examined, there is no black to be found. The painting does not contain the artist’s signature but was mentioned in several letters and is depicted in a pen drawing from Van Gogh’s estate.
Van Gogh wrote the following in a letter to his sister, Wilhelmina, between September 9-16, 1888:
“In point of fact I was interrupted these days by my toiling on a new picture representing the outside of a café at night. On the terrace there are the tiny figures of drinkers. An immense yellow lantern illuminates the terrace, the façade and the sidewalk, and even casts its light on the pavement of the streets, which takes a pinkish violet tone. The gables of the houses in the street stretching away under a blue sky spangled with stars are dark blue or violet with a green tree. Here you have a night picture without black in it, done with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green, and lemon-yellow. 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 sketch. But I find satisfaction in painting the thing immediately.”
The café from the painting still serves patrons today and is a popular tourist destination for those hoping to see Van Gogh’s Arles. One can even stand on the northeastern corner where he stood to paint the scene. Café Terrace at Night is currently on display at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.
Following this painting, he went on to paint Starry Night Over the Rhone, Starry Night, and Portrait of Eugene Boch, with a star dotted background. He also painted a number of other café paintings including The Night Café.