Famous Artwork: Café Terrace at Night

Editorial credit: ladderadder / Shutterstock.com. The Cafe Van Gogh in Provence was the inspiration for Van Gogh's painting.
Editorial credit: ladderadder / Shutterstock.com. The Cafe Van Gogh in Provence was the inspiration for Van Gogh's painting.

The Café Terrace at Night is an oil on canvas painting famed for being an inspiration of the 20th century German Expressionism movement. The painting is one of the many works attributed to 19th-century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. The inspiration behind the painting was a coffee shop in Arles, France which was then known as the Place du Forum. The painting is currently displayed at the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands.


The Café Terrace at Night painting is set on a canvas with dimensions of 31.8 inches by 25.7 inches. The painting depicts the terrace of the Place du Forum with several people seated on tables seen in the background. The painting’s foreground depicts empty tables and chairs and the entrance to the coffee house. The green windows on the café’s first floor are open. The atmosphere in the painting is a nocturnal setting with the sky being star-lit and the tables are lit by overhanging lanterns. On the right side of the painting, several buildings as well as branches of a tree are depicted.


In the late 19th century, Vincent van Gogh embarked on a trip which led him to settle in the cities of Nuenen, Antwerp, and Paris. While on these trips, the painter was introduced to Impressionist art. In 1888, Vincent van Gogh left Paris, after spending about two years in the city. He settled in Arles, France where he was inspired by the city’s vibrant lifestyle. While in Arles, Vincent visited a local coffee shop known as Place du Form. While frequenting the café, the painter decided to make a painting of the café while also expressing his troubled existence.


Scholars believe the painting is based on Van Gogh’s life at the time. The left part of the painting is extravagantly lit from the numerous lanterns with further lighting emanating from the café’s opened windows. This well-lit area of the painting is thought to symbolize the positive mood the painter had at the time. The opened green windows symbolize the painter’s open mind and joyful mood. The empty seats on the foreground are thought to symbolize the painter’s empty past. The right section of the painting is poorly lit and is thought to represent Van Gogh’s dark and depressed past. This poorly lit section contrasts the left section which scholars believe is a representation of Van Gogh's periods of positive and joyous moods contrasted with the depression he felt. The painting’s foreground features dried leaves emanating from the poorly-lit right section of the painting.

Vincent Willem van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a 19th-century Dutch painter whose works of art were used as key elements in German Expressionism. Vincent was born in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands on March 30th, 1853 to a local church minister and was home-schooled by his mother. The painter's interest in art began in his youth, and he harnessed his gift while studying art in the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts. Vincent van Gogh fatally shot himself using a 7mm revolver on July 20th, 1890 and died two days later from his injuries. The painter gained global fame posthumously as his artistry was ridiculed during his lifetime with people considering him to be a madman.


The Café Terrace at Night painting together with many other paintings from Vincent van Gogh was used in the German Expressionism movement of the early 20th century. The painting was featured in 2010 in the hit television series “Doctor Who.” The Place du Forum, the café on which the painting is based, has become a top tourist attraction in the city of Arles. In 2010, a claimant who said the item was stolen from their family was worth between $120 million and $159 million. However, the Yale University where the painting has been hanging in its art gallery for more than 50 years said they could not estimate its worth.


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