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The stage I’m setting for Paul Gaugin at Café de la Gare is brief. He and van Gogh stayed in rooms there during their Arles period which is another long story. He arrived in Arles shortly after van Gogh completed The Night Café. 

Café de Nuit, Arles. Paul Gaugin 1888

Café de Nuit, Arles. Paul Gaugin 1888

Gauguin wrote to Emile Bernard (whom we remember from Gaugin: Pont-Aven) about his painting:

” . . . a café that Vincent likes a lot and that I like less. At bottom it’s not my sort of thing and local low life doesn’t work for me. I like it well enough when others do it but it always makes me uneasy.”

The different flavours of both works may reflect the personalities of the two artists. Gauguin, being more sociable and outgoing, creates a lighter and more bustling atmosphere, whereas Van Gogh, troubled by his own isolation and inner torments chose to produce a more disturbing environment.

— Via Princeton University WordPress Service

The Night Café, Vincen van Gogh 1888 watercolor

The Night Café, Vincen van Gogh 1888 watercolor

The café is the background to his portrait of Madame Ginoux, the landlord’s wife. I’m pretty sure Gaugin painted it during the day. She looks resigned and somewhat amused at the assortment of spirited socializing and drunken stupor of the “local low life” behind her.

The man in white standing by the pool table is Joseph-Michel Ginoux. He was always checking the furnace, or so van Gogh told his brother.


NOTE:  Van Gogh was influenced by Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblocks prints) and later copied the original oil in watercolor to simplify the color scheme. I’ll get into Ukiyo-e next post.