Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cafe Terrace at Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

I really like the paintings Vincent Van Gogh did of, and in, the night. I love the colors and the way the light radiates outward. This painting reminds me of a Japanese wood block print. The brush strokes that are so evident almost seem like the impression from a carved wooden block. The color is even blocked in to shapes as though it were a woodcut. Van Gogh was very interested in Japanese prints so the influence is only natural. He even did a painting of Hiroshige’s Bridge from the series 100 Views of Edo.

One of the really cool things about Vincent Van Gogh is that we know an awful lot about him, more so than almost any other artist from the 1800’s or before, this is primarily because he was a very prolific letter writer. He wrote many letters to his brother Theo and fortunately they were saved. In these letters, Vincent tells us exactly what he was doing and why. He gave us a window into his mind. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his sister about this painting.

“I was only interrupted by my work on a new painting representing the exterior of a night cafĂ©. On the terrace there are small figures of people drinking. An immense yellow lantern illuminates the terrace, the facade, the side walk and even casts light on the paving stones of the road which take a pinkish violet tone. The gables of the houses, like a fading road below a blue sky studded with stars, are dark blue or violet with a green tree. Here you have a night painting without black, with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green and in this surrounding the illuminated area colours itself sulfur pale yellow and citron green. It amuses me enormously to paint the night right on the spot. Normally, one draws and paints the painting during the daytime after the sketch. But I like to paint the thing immediately. It is true that in the darkness I can take a blue for a green, a blue lilac for a pink lilac, since it is hard to distinguish the quality of the tone. But it is the only way to get away from our conventional night with poor pale whitish light, while even a simple candle already provides us with the richest of yellows and oranges.”

1 comment:

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