The Night Café (original French title: Le Café de nuit) is an oil painting created in Arles in September 1888, by Vincent van Gogh. Its title is inscribed lower right beneath the signature.
The interior depicted is the Café de la Gare, 30 Place Lamartine, run by Joseph-Michel and his wife Marie Ginoux, who in November 1888 posed for Van Gogh's and Gauguin's Arlésienne; a bit later, Joseph Ginoux evidently posed for both artists, too.
The painting was executed on industrial primed canvas of size 30 (French standard). It depicts the interior of the cafe, with a half-curtained doorway in the center background leading, presumably, to more private quarters. Five customers sit at tables along the walls to the left and right, and a waiter in a light coat, to one side of a billiard table near the center of the room, stands facing the viewer.
The five customers depicted in the scene have been described as “three drunks and derelicts in a large public room [...] huddled down in sleep or stupor.“ One scholar wrote, “The cafe was an all-night haunt of local down-and-outs and prostitutes, who are depicted slouched at tables and drinking together at the far end of the room.“.
In wildly contrasting, vivid colours, the ceiling is green, the upper walls red, the glowing, gas ceiling lamps and floor largely yellow. The paint is applied thickly, with many of the lines of the room leading toward the door in the back. The perspective looks somewhat downward toward the floor.
In a jocular passage of a letter Van Gogh wrote his brother, Theo, the artist said Ginoux had taken so much of his money that he'd told the cafe owner it was time to take his revenge by painting the place.
In August 1888 the artist told his brother in a letter:
“ Today I am probably going to begin on the interior of the café where I have a room, by gas light, in the evening. It is what they call here a “café de nuit” (they are fairly frequent here), staying open all night. “Night prowlers” can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in. ”
In the first days of September 1888, Van Gogh sat up for three consecutive nights to paint the picture, sleeping during the day. Little later, he sent the water-colour, copying the composition and again simplyfing the colour scheme on order to meet the simplicity ofJapanese woodblock prints.
Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night, showing outdoor tables, a street scene and the night sky, was painted in Arles at about the same time. It depicts a different cafe, a larger establishment on the Place du Forum.