Starry nights with Vincent van Gogh
I have followed in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh all over Europe seeking out the places he painted. To discover two of the sites where he painted his starry nights in Arles was thrilling and inspirational.
Café terrace at night
Vincent painted “Café terrace at night” in 1888, and is one of his best loved paintings. The café is on the Place du Forum, and was high on my list of places to visit. It’s very touristy now, but some things just have to be done.
We sat on the terrace in from mid-afternoon, and drank many coffees while I sketched. Sitting there, watching people come and go as the sun set and the evening fell was magic.
The terrace glowed yellow, just like in Vincent’s painting as the lights came on under the canopy. You’ll notice that to make my sketch, I sat at the other end of the terrace from where Vincent did.
When we returned home, I used my sketch – and Vincent’s painting – as reference material to create my own version of café terrace at night.
Starry night over the Rhone
I didn’t expect to find the site of Starry night over the Rhone, painted in 1888 so easily. I imagined that the view would be obscured by some modern development. But just as the last of the light was fading in the west, we found the place where Vincent set up his easel on the riverbank. It’s on Place Lamartine, where Vincent’s Yellow House stood until 1944. This view was just a stone’s throw from his front door.
The view was virtually unchanged from Vincent’s time. Here’s a photo of it that my husb took:
As is so often the case, the camera simply can’t take in the whole scene and squash the space in the same way the human eye can, let alone translate it into two dimensions and a pleasing composition.
Seeing what Vincent saw more or less unchanged made a great impression on me. I wanted to have a go at the scene myself. This isn’t a copy or reworking of Vincent’s painting, it’s an honest response to what I saw, and how I felt about the scene which Vincent immortalised in 1888.
I only saw three stars but the streetlights reflected in the river and the silhouette of Arles’ riverside buildings and the great dark curve of the river was precisely the same as Vincent saw it. It was magic to have a crack at a scene which Vincent would have instantly recognised.
When we returned home, I used my sketch – and Vincent’s painting – as reference material to create my own version of Starry night over the Rhone.
Commentary and images first published in October 2007. Reworked and republished in September 2023.
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This blog was first published in 2007. Reworked and republished in 2023. See all my blogs about Vincent van Gogh.