By Kelsi Hilger


Painting Specifications:

“Cafe Terrace at Night”

Vincent Van Gogh

Painted in Arles, France, mid-September 1888

The medium Van Gogh used was oil

Cafe Terrace at Night is 2’8” x 2’2”


This is a painting of a cafe. It is angled to where you get a side view of the cafe and a view of the rest of the street. In the left corner there is a door with a black/gray frame and the walls of the cafe are a greenish/yellow color. Towards the top of the cafe the walls are a blue color and there is a railing on top of the cafe roof. There are tables with people scattered around, sitting and standing. As you move to the right you can see the texture of the road and more people walking down the street. There are buildings in the background that have a darker color. The sky is an indigo color with white stars that have a yellow center. There is part of a green tree on the right side of the painting.

Art Elements:

Texture: The texture of this painting is very specific. It seems to be very rough and vivid. You can see definite lines and ridges on the road and certain parts of the cafe wall. It makes it seem like the road is one of the older roads with rocks, like a cobblestone road. The walls seem like the have imprints on them. If you ran your hand across the wall it looks like you would be able to feel the roughness of the wall. Compared to the rest of the painting, the texture of the sky is smooth, like a sky should be.

Value: In this painting, there are a lot of different tones and colors. The cafe is a very light, welcoming color. It represents a much friendlier atmosphere. The buildings in the background make the cafe look more appealing because they are darker. They are a dark blue/ black color. The road is a neutral gray color, which ties the painting together. It’s a balance between light and dark.

Form: In this painting, there is a lot of depth. The cafe stretches through most of the left hand side of the painting, so there is definite form there. You can see where the cafe curves off and it looks as if there could be an alleyway after the cafe. This also gives the painting depth, to see a definite end of the cafe. The buildings on the right side continue down the entire stretch of the painting. These buildings don’t look as three dimensional as others, however, they do have quite a bit of depth.

Principles of Art and Design:

Emphasis: In this piece, there is a lot of emphasis on the cafe itself. You can tell because it is a very bright color, while the rest of this piece takes on a darker, more neutral tone. The cafe is the focal point of the painting and Van Gogh uses color more than anything to represent that. Another way Van Gogh emphasized the cafe is texture. The cafe walls and roof seem to have more texture than any other building in the painting.

Movement: This piece gives a lot of movement. It feels like I could envision a scene just by looking at it. It is easy to imagine seeing the cafe customers talking and families walking down the street. It looks like a busy night. I think Van Gogh used the bright colors to attract the eyes to the people in the cafe, which helps create a story for them.

Proportion: Cafe Terrace at Night is very proportionate. On one side, the cafe is there, the middle of the painting has the road and some people walking down it, and the left side is more buildings. One noticeable thing is how the cafe leans over into the middle of the painting. The bright yellow color attracts the eyes and it seems just a little off balance. However, the elements in the piece do even out nicely.

Thoughts and Opinions

I overall really liked this painting because I could relate to it more. I don’t understand art at all so some of the other pieces I looked at did not make sense. On this painting however, I can picture a scene and my imagination runs wild. I believe the purpose of this painting is for the observer to interpret the painting in whatever way they wanted to. The cafe itself is done very nicely with lots of details. It is the focal point of the painting. The extreme attention to detail on the cafe is what makes the painting so good. Also, I believe another reason the painting is famous is because of the texture. There is a lot of texture which only aids the observer in imagining a perfect, serene scene. The one thing I did not like as much is the background buildings. I understand that the cafe is the center of the painting, but there was so much attention to detail on the cafe that it made the other buildings look worse. The cafe is light, welcoming, there’s people there, and the other buildings lack the same charm. I believe this is unique because no other artist has been able to capture a scene so well. There still is a lot of movement in the painting. This work of art makes me feel happy and content. I feel relaxed when looking at it, yet I picture a vivid, moving scene. I think it makes me feel this way because it just looks so inviting. The color especially gives the painting a peaceful look. I feel that Van Gogh used tools and techniques very well. The painting looks good, a little unproportionate, but still very good. I’m not sure why, but when I look at this painting, I flashback to my childhood where I would stay outside from the minute I woke up, to the minute I got yelled at because it was “too dark to play.” I reminisce on my childhood when I look at this. I had a very good childhood and I was content with life because I was happy. Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night makes me feel happy and content.

Overall, I really like this painting. I could relate to it and it allowed me to interpret it how I wanted to. I give it 4.5 stars.