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Ugly on purpose: the intentionally drab desperation of Van Gogh’s ‘The Night Café’

One of the techniques for which Vincent van Gogh is celebrated is his evocative and striking use of colour contrast. In many of his most famous works – including Café Terrace at Night (1888), The Starry Night (1889) and Irises (1889) – his palette is soothing and inviting, yielding scenes destined to hang, for generations to come, on the walls of dorm rooms and doctors’ offices. However, this video essay from Evan Puschak (also known as the Nerdwriter) finds genius in the drab hues of Van Gogh’s somewhat lesser-known work The Night Café (1888) – a painting that was, by the artist’s own admission, ‘one of the ugliest I’ve done’. Probing Van Gogh’s personal letters and acute understanding of colour theory, Puschak examines how the painter deployed clashing, desolate greens and reds in the work ‘to express the terrible passions of humanity’.

25 March 2019

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