The Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine in Arles, by Vincent Van Gogh. Oil on canvas. 70 x 89cm. Painted in Arles, September, 1888. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery. It is thought that this painting was created and offered as a rent payment by
Van Gogh to the owner of this cafe.
Neither of us like being amongst throngs of people, which is why we arrive at LACMA at ten a.m. on a Saturday for the Van Gogh to Kandinsky exhibition. First in line and groggy from the pool-playing marathon the night before, we are scrolling through my iPhone looking for my second favorite Van Gogh of all time. I spent a summer in New Haven in my late 20s with a boyfriend who was as an adjunct architecture professor at Yale. Many of my days were spent roaming the streets with my ten-year-old daughter looking for a good slice of white clam pizza, books from the secondhand stores and New Englander wool and tweed cast off skirts from the thrift shops. Not a day passed without my post-lunch visit to the University Art Gallery to steal a glimpse of The Night Café in Place Lamartine in Arles. The billiard table sliding down a wood slat floor, the yellow schizoid reverberations off the lamps, and that signature variation on teal blue green that creamily swathed the ceiling presented me with a surreal sense of calm during a summer I was miles from home.
Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait,” 1889, on Loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington » Norton Simon Museum
My first favorite Van Gogh was spotted two Christmases ago when the Norton Simon museum imported it for the holidays. In person, the eerie strips and dashes of blue on the face reminded me of the underpinnings of things—cold veins in a vampire’s skin, the dry astringency of nervous disorders, arteries striving to burst out of a coolly, composed societal façade. The fact that the piece was a self-portrait of the artist made all of these associations seem ever more poignant.
The Poplars at Saint-Rémy (Les peupliers sur la Colline), Vincent van Gogh, 1889, Oil on fabric.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. (1958.32). Photo © The Cleveland Museum of Art
Another perk of not liking to be around lots of people and getting to museums early, right when they open, is that we are able to beat the masses squeezing into to look at once towards four square feet of wall at a time. When we enter the LACMA exhibition we are first with only a few others around us. So when we come to what is now my third favorite Van Gogh of all time, The Poplars at Saint-Remy and we both take in a simultaneous and audible rush of breath as if we we’ve both been punched in the gut and accidentally say the word “Fuck” – it’s okay because there is no one around to hear us. We agree that it is perfect with its lush olive greens and chalk whites and indigo shadows and the house squeezed between the trees as if melting into the landscape that no one else would have been able to pull off. I am overwhelmed by the growing bubble of yellow bliss inside my belly that blooms and threatens to inflate, internally pop and lift the top of my head right off.
I have come to realize how much of my love of Van Gogh lies in his resonating blues, both literal and emotionally metaphorical; his fragmented perspective of reality that by slashing it into brushstroke sized pieces actually reveals the fact that we are all cut from the same molecular matter; and his all inclusive planes that expose the inherent connection of all.