Teach Through Educational Travel: Arles Through the Eyes of van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most recognized artists in the world. He’s the painter who created Starry Night, Bedroom in Arles, The Yellow House, Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, and The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles. Van Gogh lived in Arles for a year (1888-1889), where he was entranced with the light, and even hosted another famous artist, Paul Gauguin, and they painted together. van Gogh painted 187 paintings while he was in Arles.

The 1888 painting, Café Terrace on the Place du Forum (also known as Café Terrace at Night), is based on a real café in Arles. If you are in Arles, you can stand at the exact spot where van Gogh set up his easel and painted it! This café, previously called Café la Nuit, is now called the Café van Gogh. You can grab a coffee here, or even better, at the café down the street – so you will have the exact same view of the café as van Gogh did!

Teach Through Educational Travel

  • Watch this video of a tour guide talking about van Gogh and his paintings. Then watch this 3D reconstruction of the perspectives in the painting. Did either of these videos change your perception of the painting?

van Gogh described this painting as “a night picture without any black in it,” and was inspired to paint it by the contrast of yellows to the peaceful dark night. van Gogh corresponded frequently with his brother, Theo, who supported him and his art (and sold it for him, as well). In this letter Vincent wrote to Theo, he noted the paintings he had just done, including Café Terrace.

  • Read his letter, and note his descriptions of colors – aren’t they vibrant? Do you think and see the world in colors like this? This painting was the first in which he painted starry backgrounds (eventually leading to his most famous painting, Starry Night).

Take a look at this website that shows van Gogh’s paintings in Arles alongside photos of the areas he painted. How do his paintings match up to reality? How does his worldview shape his paintings? Personally, I much prefer van Gogh’s paintings! They are so vivid.

  • Download the van Gogh walk in Arles here, and read about one traveler’s experiences on taking the van Gogh walk in Arles here. Do you think much has changed in Arles over the last 100+ years?