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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Café Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh


Café Terrace at Night 1888
Café Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh was completed in 1888 as a representation of a famous coffee house in Arles France.  The location still exists and is now called Café van Gogh. Within the picture you can find shops as well as the tower of a church that has been converted into the Musée Lapidaire. The painting offers clash of light and dark, yellow and blue, and blue with black. The popular cafe is shown as an inviting and lively display of local socializing and attracted high levels of interest among locals.

The history of van Gogh is a little more troubling. Vincent van Gogh had a terrible start in life suffering from all types of personal and public turmoil’s. A son of a preacher he tried being a clerk, preacher, and an art salesman. In each of these instances he failed miserably before landing on painting art himself. He was considered a highly emotional person and lacking in self-confidence.  Even through chronic failure he eventually achieved success as a painter upon his death.  People now marvel at his works and colorful insight paying millions to own his works.

In a letter to his sister he writes about his experiences painting Café Terrace:

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.

The history of the coffee shop is an interesting one that follows the path of the Enlightenment. Originally seen as a product of the Middle East, people in the West have come to frequent coffee shops for socialization, passing time, playing games, reading and entertaining. To many these cafes are informal clubs where the members come to understand and know one another from local communities.

The beginning of coffee houses appeared in Venice as a direct result of trade with the Ottomans.  The first being recorded around 1645. Such places attracted intellectuals from around the city. The first coffee house in America started in Boston around 1676. Since this time the coffee house has expanded into both independent establishments to chain coffee shops like Starbucks. To this day the coffee shop maintains its charm as a place of socialization and enlightenment.

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