Vincent van Gogh said The Night Café was one of the ugliest pictures he had ever painted. It has also been called one of his masterpieces, particularly by a gentleman named Nathaniel Harris in his book, The Masterworks of Van Gogh. He writes of van Gogh’s use of color, which is what I find to be most impactful about Le Café de nuit.
The painting is an instance of Van Gogh’s use of what he called “suggestive colour” or, as he would soon term it, “arbitrary colour” in which the artist infused his works with his emotions, typical of what was later called Expressionism.
Apparently he was in an ugly mood when he painted it to settle his debt to the landlord and the owner of Café de la Gare in Arles. Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, frequently about his experiences while painting it 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.
In one correspondence, he described the painting and his color interpretation.
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…
NOTE: I don’t have much more to say tonight about the The Night Café, other than to set the stage for Paul Gaugin’s competition piece, Night Café at Arles.