The Cafe Terrace on the Place Du Forum, Arles, at Night

1 January 2017

The painting that I chose to write my formal analysis on is called “The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night”. This piece was created by Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, France and was completed sometime in September of 1888. This painting is oil on canvas, and it is currently housed in the Kroller-Muller Museum located in Otterlo, The Netherlands in Europe. This painting depicts a sidewalk cafe in France at night. There is a doorway to the front left of the painting that is painted blue, and is surrounded by a wall that gleams yellow from the outdoor lights.

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Attached to the wall, there is a large awning, and it covers the diners and the empty tables that are a part of the cafe. Above the awning, there are open window shutters that are painted green. A server dressed in black and white and holding a tray walks between the customers, which are all gathered to the rear of the restaurant, and there are six tables filled with diners dressed in ordinary dark clothes. There are eight empty tables taking residence in the painting, and they are placed towards the front of the painting, and also to the right of the diners. Next to and behind the cafe, there are people walking through the night streets.

The pedestrians are dressed in brighter colors and more elaborate clothes than those that are seated. There is a street next to the restaurant that appears to be made of cobblestones, and the street winds around the restaurant to the rear of the painting and towards a dark town in the background. On the far right of the painting and opposite of the people eating, there are buildings lining the street. There are seventeen lit windows in various buildings on the street side. The building that is directly across from the cafe also appears to be a business, and the windows are wider that the buildings behind them.

In the very front of the painting, a tree is visible, and the leaves are still green. Above everything in the painting, there is a blue sky and large bright stars that shine yellow. The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night is painted using oil paints on canvas. When Van Gogh painted this piece, he was most likely on site, and used tubes of paint. Van Gogh had a very particular method of creating new pieces of art, first drawing preliminary drawings and often writing about his new works to his brother, Theo.

After completing one or more preliminary drawings, Van Gogh would gather his canvas, tubes of paint, and brushes, and would take pleasure in going outside to paint his objects firsthand. Van Gogh had a unique method of painting involving brushstrokes; he made large thick strokes, and sometimes forwent using any brushes at all, choosing to paint from a tube directly onto the canvas. Van Gogh used many elements of art elements in his works. The first element that is obvious in The Cafe Terrace is the element of line. The cobblestone street in the work illustrates line use, because they are framed with short, black lines.

These small lines also add an element of texture to the painting. Another instance of line is evident in the buildings in the painting. The windows, doors, and other elements of the houses and businesses are defined more obviously because of the inclusion of black lines. The doorway edge at the front left of the painting is a line that leads the viewer’s eye to the awning. The line of the edge of the awning is another example of line, because it draws the eye down to the street, and the street draws you back to the cafe and the town behind it.

Another example of an art element found in The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night is the element of space. There is a lot of space between the cafe and the buildings across the street, and the space is broken only by the nighttime pedestrians roaming the streets. Space is also represented by the crowd of diners that is gathered at the back of the restaurant. The crowd, along with the server, is crowded together and mirrors the empty space of the front of the cafe perfectly. The next art element that is evidence in the piece is the element of color.

Color is highly evident in this painting, and helps to draw the viewer’s eye to certain places in the painting. The cafe is yellow, and adds a boisterous feeling to that section of the piece. The yellow light spills onto the street and walls of the town, creating bright colors and drawing the eye. The sky and town use dark colors to illustrate nighttime, although the bright spots of the stars cause the viewer to look to the sky. The next art element that is demonstrated in this painting is time and motion. The think strokes of the leaves on the tree make it looks as though a wind is blowing through the streets of France.

The pedestrians in the street demonstrate an element of time and motion because they appear to have been caught mid-stride on the way to their destinations. The server in the cafe, as well as his customers, show motion because they are moving and having conversations amongst themselves. Texture and pattern are very easy to identify in this painting. The street’s cobblestones show texture and pattern in the way that they are arranged. Texture is also demonstrated through the paint strokes on the buildings, the tree, and even the sky. These thick, uneven strokes add a layer of depth and texture to all elements of the painting.

The final element in The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night that demonstrates time is the stars and darkness that represent nighttime. The deep colors in the background, compared with the bright lights under the awning depict the time of day for the viewer. Besides many art elements, the painting also shows lots of art principles. The first principle that can be found is balance. This painting has asymmetrical balance, because the cafe and the empty space balance each other out. Another principle that is easily found in the work is the focal point.

The awning draws the viewer’s eye to the focal point, or center of the painting; the cafe customers. The bright light under the awning emphasizes the focal point of the cafe as well. The next principle that can be found in The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night is scale and proportion. The proportion of the front tables compared to the back tables is different, which shows depth and scale. The proportion and size of the pedestrians compared to the other elements at the front of the painting show the scale of how far back the people and cafe customers might be sitting.

Repetition and rhythm are both important principles that are present in The Cafe Terrace. The repetition of the cobblestones makes the viewer’s eye follow the street around the cafe and toward the people walking the streets. This painting demonstrates rhythm also, because of the obvious differences between the light and dark sections of the painting. Although the darkness sets a slower rhythm for the painting, the contrast of the light adds an element of excitement and life to the piece. The last art principle that can be found in the painting is unity and variety.

These principles are evident in both the unity of the buildings and people, as well as in the variety between the looks of the people in the painting. The buildings create a sense of unity because they are all basically the same form and color, and they seem to go uniformly together. The people and colors both represent the variety in the painting, because of the vast differences between the bright color variety, as well as between the people’s appearances and clothing. When painting The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night, Vincent Van Gogh had many influences for his work.

He came to Paris, but was led to Arles in the winter of 1888, where he began painting the different intriguing landscapes. Vincent was very interested in painting night scenes and began exploring with them at the time that he created The Cafe Terrace, a scene that he experienced firsthand during his time in France. Van Gogh has been quoted as saying that he was influenced by the Arles surroundings, and that he found inspiration in the life and color of the French countryside. Van Gogh struggled with a sense of self worth crisis, and his paintings were not successful pieces during his life.

Van Gogh’s inability to sell a painting and fund his own expenses led to significant economic strain. This painting may also have been influenced by Van Gogh’s history with religious pursuits. Vincent Van Gogh’s father was a reverend, and Van Gogh served the church for a short amount of time before getting rejected for being too idealistic. This religious experience might have influenced Van Gogh’s paintings and other works later in life, including The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night. Another element that may have influenced Van Gogh in his paintings could be the role and function of artists in the 19th century.

While many artists could make a successful living with painting, Van Gogh sold only one painting in his entire lifetime, which may have influenced him to work harder on his paintings. When looking at The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night, I think that Van Gogh is trying to communicate the separation of the group of diners and pedestrians from the viewer. There is a large space and empty tables and chairs between the viewer and everyone in the painting, and this communicate the loneliness that I think Van Gogh is trying to convey very well.

This painting can also communicate the happiness of gathering together at night to eat and talk. The yellow lights shining off the people, walls, and the street help to communicate the brightness and togetherness of the townsfolk as they eat together. This painting makes me feel both lonely and separate from the crowd that has gotten together to eat. It also makes me happy because the people seem to be close to each other because they are sitting close together. I think about how people tend to group together at nighttime, and I feel like this is mostly a happy painting because of the brightness of the lights and the stars in the sky.

I also think that this is a happy painting because although the picture is depicting night, there is little to no black used to show it. Mostly, the night and darkness is illustrated by blues and deep purples. While looking at this painting, it reminds me of many other pieces of work, both paintings by Van Gogh as well as others. The painting by Van Gogh that reminds me most of The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, At Night is his work called Starry Night. These two paintings are alike because they both depict a brightened nighttime scene.

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