Night Coffee

Night Coffee

by Vincent Van Gogh

Night coffee is a painting by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, made in 1888 and kept at the Art Gallery of Yale University.

The depicted restaurant is the Café de l’Alcazar, a place located at the Lamartine place in Arles where van Gogh used to dine or spend the evenings. The owner of this bar, Madame Ginoux, was portrayed in various Vanguard paintings, including The Arlesiana of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting, one of the most successful in Van Gogh’s judgment, was purchased after the death of the artist from a wealthy Russian textile merchant Ivan Morozov: after various collections of peregrinations, for which in 1933 the painting was sold by the Soviet authorities to a Berlin gallery and then landed in a New York gallery. Coffee at night went into the magnate collections American Stephen Clark. In 1961, at the death of the latter, the opera found its final placement in the art gallery of Yale University, always in the United States. [1]

A grim game of internal chromatic recalls fills the work of a hallucinating, tremendous atmosphere of profound discomfort: van Gogh, in fact, wanted to express with the Coffee at night the violence of human passions, which degenerated especially in coffee. Vincent himself gave a very detailed description of the work and its purposes:

“I tried to paint the terrible human passions with red and green. Everywhere there is a struggle and an antithesis of the most diverse greens and reds, in the characters of small thugs who sleep in the empty and sad room … In my framework Coffee at night I tried to express the idea that coffee is a where you can ruin, become crazy, committing crimes. I also tried to express the darkness almost like a slaughterhouse, with contrasts between the tender pink and the red blood and wine scum, between the verdino Louis XV and the Veronese, with the yellow green and the blue, all in a ‘atmosphere of an infernal furnace of pale sulfur’
(Vincent van Gogh [2])
The bars and nightclubs were a subject widely frequented by Impressionists, who celebrated the status of ‘modern life’ meeting place. Coffee at night, however, is far from the festive atmospheres and cheerful chromatic ranges of those paintings. Café de l’Alcazar’s space is hallucinatory, anxious, and seems to slip and dissolve inexorably. Vincent himself was satisfied with how this work placed itself on the labile border between sensory consciousness and derision, taking on the sinister tones of a particularly disturbing nightmare. The marginality of the figures in this kind of infernal furnace is underlined by their location: all the bar enthusiasts are imprisoned in the small space between the tables and the walls, and no waiter is about to gather the orders of this humanity (bohemian, bunny or sleeping bitches, prostitutes, marginalized, alcohol-stricken). Characters depicted, indeed, are isolated, as closed in themselves. Note, in this regard, the pair at the bottom left, the only one not being overwhelmed by alcohol abuse: it is to be said, however, that their attitude “is certainly not the case of two lovers and gives contrary to an impression of brutality “(Admiral). [3]

The owner of the room dresses a white shirt and is supported by a pose that denotes tiredness at the billiard table, whose prospective depths and the abandoned stack help to make the atmosphere even more overwhelming. The empty chair in the foreground, similar to that painted by Van Gogh at the same time, wants to imply the meaning of the absence. The visible mirror on the right is cloudy, cloudy, even sulfur-like: nothing could be more distant from the lively exuberance of the impressionist mirrors (see, in this sense, Édouard Manet’s Folies-Bergère Bar). The watch above denotes late at night and, in addition to recalling the cultured pattern of the memento mori, marks the fleeting hours of this night of atrocious loneliness. Even the bottles of alcohol, packed on the counter at the bottom, seem to suffer from the vertiginous irreversibility that distorts prospectively and psychologically this bar, making it quite similar to a Dante group.

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