From Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo:
Van Gogh had intended to make a nocturnal painting for some time. And not one in the conventional manner, in shades of black and grey, but actually with an abundance of colours. Equally unconventional is that he paints this gas-lit terrace of a café in Arles in situ and in the dark, because colours have a different appearance during the day than by night.
The most eye-catching aspect is the sharp contrast between the warm yellow, green and orange colours under the marquise and the deep blue of the starry sky, which is reinforced by the dark blue of the houses in the background. Van Gogh was pleased with the effect: ‘I believe that an abundance of gaslight, which, after all, is yellow and orange, intensifies blue.’
He writes to his sister Wil: ‘I enormously enjoy painting on the spot at night.’ The fact that he observes keenly is borne out by later astronomical research. He painted the constellations precisely as they appeared on the night of 16 or 17 September 1888.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Friday, 9 March 1888.
My dear Theo,
Now at long last, this morning the weather has changed and has turned milder — and I’ve already had an opportunity to find out what this mistral’s like too. I’ve been out on several hikes round about here, but that wind always made it impossible to do anything. The sky was a hard blue with a great bright sun that melted just about all the snow — but the wind was so cold and dry it gave you goose-pimples. But even so I’ve seen lots of beautiful things — a ruined abbey on a hill planted with hollies, pines and grey olive trees. We’ll get down to that soon, I hope. Now I’ve just finished a study like the one of mine Lucien Pissarro has, but this time it’s of oranges. That makes eight studies I have up to now. But that doesn’t count, as I haven’t yet been able to work in comfort and in the warm.
The letter from Gauguin that I had intended to send you but which for a moment I thought I had burned with some other papers, I later found and enclose herewith. But I’ve already written to him direct and I’ve sent him Russell’s address as well as sending Gauguin’s to Russell, so that if they wish they can make direct contact. But as for many of us — and surely we’ll be among them ourselves — the future is still difficult. I do believe in a final victory, but will artists benefit from it, and will they see more peaceful days?
I’ve bought some coarse canvas here and I’ve had it prepared for matt effects, I can now get everything, more or less, at Paris prices.
On Saturday evening I had a visit from two amateur painters, one of whom is a grocer — and also sells painting materials — and the other a justice of the peace who seems kind and intelligent.
Unfortunately I’m hardly managing to live more cheaply than in Paris, I need to allow 5 francs a day.
For the moment I haven’t found anything like a boarding-house, but there must surely be some.
If the weather also gets milder in Paris it will do you good. What a winter!
I daren’t roll up my studies yet because they’re hardly dry, and there are some areas of impasto that won’t dry for a while.
I’ve just read Tartarin sur les Alpes, which I greatly enjoyed.
Has that bloody man Tersteeg written to you? That’ll do us good anyway — don’t worry.
If he doesn’t reply, he’ll hear people talking about us all the same, and we’ll make sure he has nothing to fault in what we do. For example, we’ll send Mrs Mauve a painting in memory of Mauve with a letter as well from us both in which, if Tersteeg doesn’t reply, we won’t say a word against him but we’ll make it understood that we don’t deserve to be treated as though we were dead.
In fact, it’s likely that Tersteeg won’t be predisposed against us after all.
That poor Gauguin has no luck, I do fear that in his case convalescence will take longer than the fortnight he had to spend in bed.
For Christ’s sake, when are we going to see a generation of artists with healthy bodies? Sometimes I’m really furious with myself because it isn’t good enough to be iller or less ill than others, the ideal thing would be to have a strong enough constitution to live for 80 years and along with that, blood that was real good blood.
But we could take comfort if we felt that a generation of more fortunate artists was going to come along.
I wanted to write to you straightaway that I’m hopeful winter’s over now and I hope it will be the same in Paris. Handshake.