In 1888, Vincent van Gogh was immersed in the world of the Café de la Gare in Arles. “It is what they call here a “café de nuit” (they are fairly frequent here), staying open all night,” he wrote in a letter to his brother, Theo. ““Night prowlers” can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in.”
This scene, drunken louts included, was the subject for Van Gogh’s Le Café de nuit, in which bodies slumped over tables and lamps hung from a bright green ceiling emitting yellow halos that contrasted with the café’s deep red walls. In a later letter to his brother, the artist explained, “In my picture of the Night Café I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime.”
Art lovers can no longer visit the café. Nor, for that matter, can they go there to ruin themselves, go mad, or commit crimes. (There are, however, plenty of suitable venues for such pursuits.) But thanks to Mac Cauley’s VR tribute to Van Gogh, you can now walk through the scene. Like DNA strands, Cauley has unwound Van Gogh’s swirls to create a three-dimensional space that is navigable yet impressionistic.
To borrow a phrase from Marvel, this is Van Gogh’s “Expanded Universe.” Transforming a painting into a fully realized 3D space requires a degree of extrapolation. For good measure, Cauley has sprinkled in some Easter eggs—floral arrangements, views from balconies—from Van Gogh’s other paintings. It’s as if Van Gogh brought the entirety of his lived experience to the hotel. Or at least the entirety of his lived experience other than his madness, which set in shortly after he painted Le Café de nuit. He mutilated his ear less than a year after completing the painting. You, on the other hand, can escape his world without any disfigurations. That is yet another victory for VR!
The Night Cafe was made for the VR Jam.