Le Café de nuit
Le Café de nuit was executed in September 1888, when the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), having abandoned Paris, was living in Arles in the south of France. The artist slept during the day and worked three consecutive nights while completing the picture. It depicts the interior of the Café de la Gare, an all night tavern owned by Joseph-Michel Ginoux and his wife Marie, where a clock sets the time at a quarter past midnight, a place,
"'Where one can ruin one's self, go mad, or commit a crime' So I have tried to express as it were the power of darkness in a low public house by soft Louise XV green and malachite contrasting with yellow-green and harsh blue-green, and all this in an atmosphere like a devil's furnace of pale sulphur.
"And all with an appearance of Japanese gaiety and the good nature of Tartarin.
"But what would Monsieur Tersteeg say about this picture when he said before a Sisley - Sisley, the most discreet and gentle of the Impressionists - 'I can't help thinking that the artist who painted that was a little tipsy.' If he saw my picture, he would say that it was delirium tremens in full swing."
Van Gogh painted a complementary picture of the exterior: Café Terrace at Night.
He included a description of "The Night Café" in a letter to his brother Theo van Gogh:
“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. The blood-red and the yellow-green of the billiard table, for instance, contrast with the soft tender Louis XV green of the counter, on which there is a rose nosegay. The white clothes of the landlord, watchful in a corner of that furnace, turn lemon-yellow, or pale luminous green."
Van Gogh offered the explanation that,
"instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use colour more arbitrarily, so as to express myself more forcibly."
He provided a further motive to his use of saturated primary colours:
"All the colours that the Impressionists have brought into fashion are unstable, so there is all the more reason not to be afraid to lay them on too crudely - time will tone them down only too much."
The painting is in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, in the United States.