Few know Vincent Van Goph painted more than one starry night, star-filled skies being a favored theme of the painter.
In total, Van Goph painted four ‘starry night’ paintings. In September of 1888, he setup his easel at the north eastern corner of the Place du Forum in Arles, France and looked south towards the artificially lit terrace of the popular coffee house against the dark sky and painted his first: Café, in the evening. After finishing his work, he wrote with enthusiasm to his sister.
On the terrace, there are little figures of people drinking. A huge yellow lantern lights the terrace, the façade, the pavement, and even projects light over the cobblestones of the street, which takes on a violet-pink tinge. The gables of the houses on a street that leads away under the blue sky studded with stars are dark blue or violet, with a green tree. Now there’s a painting of night without black. With nothing but beautiful blue, violet and green, and in these surroundings the lighted square is coloured pale sulphur, lemon green. I enormously enjoy painting on the spot at night. In the past they used to draw, and paint the picture from the drawing in the daytime. But I find that it suits me to paint the thing straightaway. It’s quite true that I may take a blue for a green in the dark, a blue lilac for a pink lilac, since you can’t make out the nature of the tone clearly. But it’s the only way of getting away from the conventional black night with a poor, pallid and whitish light, while in fact a mere candle by itself gives us the richest yellows and oranges.
Van Goph went on to paint his Starry Night Over the Rhône and most famous The Starry Night a year later. His fourth ‘starry night’ was actually a portrait of another painter, Eugene Boch.
In a letter to his brother, Theo, the post-impressionist explained the origin of his artistic fascination with the night sky:
“That doesn’t stop me having a terrible need for – dare I say the word – for religion. So I go outside at night to paint the stars and I always dream a painting like that with a group of living figures of the pals.”
In 2014, an academic paper advanced the theory that his first starry night is actually a painting of the Last Supper – and it wasn’t the first time he’s painted the Last Supper. Before his Café, in the evening, Van Goph painted two Last Supper studies, known as Interior of a Restaurant in Arles. Art historians have said:
“There are a number of similarities between this painting and Renaissance Last Suppers. In the center is a serving figure. Most of the diners are stretched along the far side of the table. Three wine carafes feature prominently in the foreground.”
After painting his Last Supper studies, Van Goph purchased straw-bottomed chairs by the dozen, hoping to start a commune of twelve “artist-apostles” at his Yellow House.
“Culminating with his composition of twelve diners drenched in a yellow halo surrounding a Rembrandtesque server framed by a crucifix at the vanishing point of the picture; it’s concluded his original starry night is a Symbolist’s Last Supper.”
Today, that same coffeehouse is a popular destination visited by Van Goph enthusiasts.