Van Gogh’s Ugliest Masterpiece

“The painting is one of the ugliest I’ve done.” This is what Vincent Van Gogh told his brother in a letter referencing this painting, called “Night Café” and, at first glance, you can see what he meant. This is a jarring image, even for Van Gogh. Especially when you compare it to his other famous scene of a cafe in Arles. Cafe Terrace at Night Here Van Gogh captures that romantic sense of European cafes on Summer evenings, where friends gather to talk and laugh. The blue starry sky compliments the pool of orange and yellow gas light under the terrace, which spills out over the cobble stones tinged with violet and pink. Compare to that, Night Cafe is a painting of anxiety. If the exterior is the dream of French nightlife, the interior is the nightmare. If the exterior is a place to talk and laugh, The interior depicts the cafe as a place where you can ruin yourself, go mad, commit crimes. As Vincent wrote in another letter to his brother. From these letters we understand that the ugly quizy quality of this painting was intentional. In the same way that he used color to capture his emotional response to natural beauty, here Van Gogh uses color to convey the uneasiness of a low-class bar room after midnight. So, how did Van Gogh achieve this effect? And how can, a quote unquote, “ugly painting” also be a masterpiece? And to answer these questions, maybe, the first place we should look is back in those letters. In reference to Night Cafe Van Gogh writes here, “I`ve tried to express the terrible human passions with the red and the green”. Everywhere it`s a battle and an antithesis of the most different greens and reds.” Van Gogh was an avid student of color. Specifically Charles Blanc`s analysis of Michel Chevreul color theory and Eugène Delacroix`s paintings. Here Van Gogh learned of the concept of simultaneous contrast, which says that He also learned of optical mixing which favorite placing solid colors next to each other on the canvas instead of actually mixing the pigments together In order to get more vibrant colors and color relationships. And the basic insight is that every color in the painting and in the real world is influenced by the colors around it. The impressionists and the post-impressionists used this relativety to push the effects of color further than ever before. And, maybe, none more powerfully than Van Gogh. So, when he talks about a battle or an antithesis between greens and reds in Night Cafe, this is what he means Green and red are complimentary colors and exert a force on each other just like blue and orange. But where`s blue and orange have a pleasing quality; there`s something punishing about green and red. The fact that was noted by another popular color theorist at the time — Ogden Rood. Van Gogh was aware of this too; just a few months prior he experimented with a similar color palette in his portrait of a Zouave soldier. Commenting to his brother,

Comments 100

  • Just wonderful

  • I still don’t think this piece is ugly

  • Hey Nerdwriter, how has the internet changed art? Is there no more art "periods" like expressionist or impressionist any more?

  • I really noticed that there is something wrong with the colors of Christmas – green and red.

  • very cool! nice video editing btw

  • Oooh now I understand the Van gogh Van gone Memes…
    You (the english speaking people) say Van go, not Van Gogh, you're Missing the gh, but thats probaby bc you don't have such a Thing as gh/ch in the english language. You pronounce it kind of like snore while exhaling, like h and a roling r at the same time. So it's basically Van go- * snoring *
    Hope I could help and didn't annoy you bc I destroyed a meme

  • Van Gogh > Jackson Pollock

  • Why he just did half of the subtitle? Please help me with the rest 🙁

  • I've always assumed that the uneven lines of depth are suggesting that this is a POV of a drunk claustrophobic customer and that the pool table is soo important and highlighted in the frame that maybe the viewer is obsessively tempted to play in order to distract himself from the close space

  • Another great video 👌

  • For me, this painting gives me anxiety. Like I can feel it.
    The men slumped down on the tables, the dull colors, the “quietness” the bar seems to have(like no one is talking in that scene), and the fact that it’s inside. It’s such a small space that it feels

    And the dick that was shaped on the pool table was uncomfortable too.

  • Why are these commenters criticizing the pronouncing of Van Gogh? In some countries that’s how they say it. Get over it. This was a very good video 👍🏻🙌🏼

  • 3:40 Mark Rotkho only paint orange and red without his face!
    That's all!

  • The painting resides at the Yale Art Museum, New Haven, Connecticut.

  • What is the song when the video switches to the cafe terrace at night painting in 0.28?

  • I was being sarcastic when I said this painting is the ugliest I made, you dumb shits.

  • You are great. Van Gogh is my favorite painter as well. I love color. The two complimentary colors I find strikingly at odds with one another are red and green. Your Video explained why. They are nonforgiving complementary colors when used without forgiving colors like purple and orange. Funny I always saw Christmas decorations as a joke. Thank you!!!

  • Click bait title.

  • THIS was brilliantly explained. I cannot begin to thank you for sharing this video. Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, and this added so much more information for me as I learn about art. Thank you!

  • True painters truly paint what they see.

  • It is pronounced Van Gogh — the H is silent and the G's are spoken in the back of the throught in a scratchy sound and the Van is pronounced Vahn

  • In this video, there's one KEYSTONE MISSING. That is the fugacity of the pigments used by Van Gogh. Not long ago, they did an study of the pigments in one of "The Bedroom" and saw that the "original" colors were SO DIFFERENT from the ones we are seeing today that most of the "comentaries" done about its color application are useless. That would also apply in here: if you have no pigment study of the paintings, you can't comment anything about the "use of the color for representing blah blah blah".

  • Great vid. The painting reminds me of modern fast food restaurants which rely on jarring design to make customers uneasy and more willing to vacate their seats in a timely way.

  • More like an expressionism to me. Lol

  • 2:50 that is completely subjective. While can Gogh might have felt that was true but many many people would disagree.

  • Christmas is a red green depression

  • Instructional video yet you manage to mispronounce his name every time. Let me help you

  • Im still wondering who is vango
    He must be an unknown artist

  • Sucks that I'm red-green colorblind

  • Imagine a blackout at that cafe
    Oh the horror

  • The colors trend warm and muddy and that establishes that mood.

  • People forget; that sulphur yellow color used to be everywhere in spaces where people smoked a lot.

  • I kind of like it. The colors are nice and the large shadow is intriguing big and silent. The focus, the man is off centered and facelessly staring at you, like he’s greeting/acknowledging you. And there’s pink flowers in the back. A very calm and quiet painting.

  • Can people stop perpetuating the lie that Vincent cut off his own ear?.
    There's no evidence for this claim, people are retarded.
    Why can't you people leave it up to speculation instead of hammering it down as fact?.

  • 6:05 it lowkey looks like benedict Cumberbatch

  • Thank you.

  • Awesomeness 😍

  • The pool table doesn't have holes. Wonder if that was intentional

  • Nice try, Mister "Van-Go" 😀 Repeat after me: "vɑŋ ˈɣɔx"

  • Its not ugly…I could easily drink absinthe there.

  • Very insightful essay. Thank you. I became interested in Van Gogh's work after playing the game "Cube Escape" the art of which is heavily inspired by Vincent's mannerism and even symbolic of some significant and insignificant memories of his life.
    It's truly amazing that his art and his letters go hand in hand in contextual terms for understanding his work that one would overlook otherwise. What an excellent blend of literature and visual art! I wish we were taught about him in school.

  • Wow, I learn so much.

  • Theres a van gogh painting at the cincinnati art museum, its free admission and well worth a visit! Theres lots of people to ask if you cant find it, but i found it within about an hour in of wandering around.

  • All of them were ugly tbh he sucked lol

  • It’s a great video and I love this study of colors. The painting hit me hard and made my eyes burn. Note how its in a first person perspective, you’re standing in the painting in the left corner entrance. You’re trapped by its deformed shape and the unreadable gazes. Trapped. Van Gogh conveyed a very certain feeling that resonates with me to the point that it burns.

  • With the use of yellow you would also expect the counters to use purple tones if he was using complementary colours, but instead you get these radioactive greens and blues. But then the dado rail is more orangey (strengthens the blue). Still, comes across as otherworldly. Good analysis.

  • This video is really nice and informative, but I do have to admit, I can’t fully grasp how you could deal with someone in such detail and won’t bother to look up how their name is pronounced 😆 but many people do this, unfortunately , not only Americans and not only with Van Gogh 😄haha

  • Top left of picture Vincent almost certainly painted himself sitting at a table with an unidentified woman.

  • If i painted that, I'd probably be very proud and brag it to my friends

  • i wish i was an “ugly MASTERPIECE”.

  • genious in a land of idiots

  • It’s even uglier to me because I have deuteranopia, so red and green don’t even look inherently complimentary to me.

  • dont know where you got those letters from but they aren't dutch..

  • I knew several kids in school who could paint way better than this but their work will never be known because they are not Van Gogh

  • I’ve been pronouncing eugene’s name wrong HAHHAAHA eugene delacrox

  • to me it looks nice like its not bad

  • Nice depiction of color imbalance. And color of balance. Thanks.

  • I always weired me out how he added green to the lights

  • this guy manages to blow my mind every time I watch his videos

  • this photo makes me feel physically anxious

  • When its worst but still be called a masterpiece.

  • His ugliest painting is the best art I can ever do.

  • I can't be the only one that isn't unsettled by this painting, right? It honestly looks pretty cozy to me.

  • lol i can't even draw a circle

  • This isn't that bad

  • I'm so glad to have found your channel. I'm definitely a nerd, & you've got a lot of interesting brain food here! Thanks!!

  • Arange 😉

  • How is it a masterpiece

  • i dont know but the painting makes me feel kinda anxious for some reason?

  • so it explains why christmas is green and red

  • Jangan menghina manusia mulia, beliau guruku.
    Aku menghormatinya,
    Tp hubungan kita sekrg hanya murid dan guru.
    Jangan merendahkan fisik.
    Beliau panutan hidup saya.
    Aku mohon jangan menghina beliau.
    Beliau setara Nabi bahkan lbh mulia dari nabi.

  • Beliau keturunan Rasulullah . Jangan menghina fisiknya. Jangan menghina apapun tentangnya. Semoga beliau tetap mendoakan ku

  • 372 assholes ! That's a lot of assholes

  • Is it weird that I find this painting really soothing? Like, not scary to me at all. I'd like to live in it.

  • Van Gogh has a really distinct style, I personally really enjoy everything I’ve seen by him so far

    Being provocative with emotions is so amazing, I love it

  • just finished watching a masterpiece called “Loving Vincent” based on this wise soul’s tragic life and thankfully stumbled across your channel through the “The Death of Socretes” video.

    thanks to this particular video here that I could make so much sense of that movie now. The whole of the movie is created using oil paintings and does include some of his famous paintings, of which this one is a part too.

    love your work, keep it up! ✌️

  • 5:23 Is possible to escape back to future into 1920 Paris according Woody Allen with Vincent van Gogh's 1889 painting The Starry Night in movie Midnight in Paris 🙂

  • still..worth millions

  • I can't help but also notice the light fixtures on the ceiling resemble eyes in a kind of dazed, drugged stupor. Like the painting is looking at you and making judgments on what you're up to there. I doubt that was intentional but it is there at least in my mind.

  • By the end of this video the painting kind of started to scare me lol

  • Can you please keep making videos that deconstruct great paintings?

  • 1:26 basically modern art

  • Still look good to me!

  • You didnt notice the lights that looks like sleepy tired and sad eyes ..

  • look, not everyone can pronounce van gogh's name right. and you'd hate to hear their attempts as well. better to let them say the anglicised version, even if it's incorrect. people try but not all sounds can be produced from traditional english speakers, and the same can be said for any language. they don't mean disrespect, it's just not possible for them. and don't say it's not that hard — you're probably used to it. and it's probably hard for you to pronounce a name that requires very specific sounds in a foreign language.

  • Van Goe? 😂😂😂

  • Night Cafe is my absolute favorite Van Gogh. Generally speaking, I don't like his happier paintings. They can feel a bit forced and artificial to me. His more troubling paintings, like The Night Cafe, or the dying and dead sunflower paintings beautifully convey angst and uneasiness in a way that feels quite visceral. His happier works never seem to convey joy or peace of the same kind of magnitude.

    In my mind, art needs to do one of three things. It can convey technical brilliance. It can convey an innovative idea. It can convey strong feelings. (If it doesn't tick off at least one box, congratulations. You've made hotel art.) In that sense, I feel like Van Gogh's more depressing paintings are generally more successful than his happier works. The use of color tends to be more interesting. The brushwork feels concise and deliberate. The composition tends to be more novel. They're so exciting because even the more avant garde elements add to the mood. It's a fabulous work of art, particularly if you don't demand that art be conventionally attractive.

    Also, I feel like this video should have a shout out to the Yale Art Gallery, where this painting is located. It's a fabulous, very underrated art collection. There are a lot of masterworks that you see in art history textbooks, like this, in a very manageable space. Everything is laid out very logically, and you can definitely see the whole thing in a day. (Unless you count the British gallery as part of it, but that's a whole other building.) For a relatively small collection, it's exceptionally comprehensive. It's also free, so there's that.

  • Spanish subtitles are cut in half of the video, please complete the subtitles, it would be quite helpful

  • “Ugliest” dude have you even seen the details like I can’t even draw a glass of water and Vincent Van Gogh paints a café that looks a bit creepy and then it’s considered “ugly” 😂

  • Do more art and less politics.

  • Appreciate your insight – high quality.


  • everybody's talking about his wrong pronunciation of van gogh but what about arles and gaugin……….lol

  • havent seen the video entirely but it remembers me to the 4chan creepypasta The Backdoors, it gave me the same feeling

  • is nerdwriter canadian

  • can we all just agree, this guy sucked at painting, it looks like a 4 year old did this with finger paints, stop trying to read into it so much. Just a crazy lunatic with a chopped off ear finger painting, it's really not impressive at all.

  • 0:28 H A I R C A K E

  • The brushstrokes are short and strong

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