Fifty-two

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The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night

1888 by Vincent van Gogh
Kröller-Müller Museum

Though the Kröller-Müller Museum houses much van Gogh, this painting has to be one of my favourites. Though perhaps not as original in style as other van Gogh’s, The Café Terrace immediately absorbs, with its magically conjured atmosphere and bright colours. Painted just a year before the infamous The Starry Night it could be seen as inspiration, its twinkling sky shining out above the roof tops. Indeed, this painting is all about light, not the rippling natural light of the Impressionists, but the iridescent glows of the night: the burning orange of shop windows, a starry sky, and the lure of warm yellow as it pours out of a night café, so engulfing the streetlamp can barely be made out. Cobbles glitter with this burning amber as, for van Gough, light is all about colour – enflamed umber scattered strikingly on teal. The colours are wonderfully harmonious — orange alternating with blue, pausing to mix on the reflective texture of the stony street. Texture is also picked out with van Gogh’s distinct painterly brush strokes: rustling the leaves of the tree; rippling the bright awning of the café. People sit and wander through this ignited scene, distant figures, but expressively made out as we envy them their surroundings.

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