Contrary to popular belief, given the enormous quantity of work many famous and historic artists produced during their lifetimes, they didn't paint twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They ate, slept, and relaxed at the end of a hard day's work the same as the rest of us (painters or otherwise). Usually such periods of relaxation involved a small cafe where they took their meals, drank their wine, and met and talked with fellow artists. The Impressionists had their Guerbois. Picasso and his friends the el Quatre Gats, the New York School the Cedar Tavern, and in the tiny village of Arles in the south of France there still stands today The Cafe Alcazar.
The address is number 2 place Lamartine. Except for its two most famous customers it was not an artists' hangout. In large part its clientele consisted of ordinary farm workers, a few merchants, government workers, and some prostitutes. It was not a pretty place. The colours were predominantly green, browns, yellows, rather garish, made all the more so by the primitive electric lights hanging from the ceiling. It had a billiard table, a bar, crude tables and chairs and no discernible decor. It was a place, as the song goes, "where everyone knows your name." And speaking of names, its main claim to fame today is Vincent van Gogh and his sometimes friend, Paul Gauguin. Here these two ate, drank, argued, fought, and joked with the waitresses, town prostitutes, and drunks. Here they relaxed and took the edge off a grinding, precarious daily existence in which poverty and emotional instability were never far removed.
Van Gogh painted the place on a couple occasions. The more famous Yellow House, which he also painted, was nearby. It was destroyed during WW II bombing, but his paintings of the area give good a feel for what the place must have been like a hundred years ago. Vincent also painted many of the people who frequented the tiny tavern, including his good friend and postman, Joseph Roulin and his wife, also Marie Ginoux, wife of the owner of the place, and some of the young ladies he met there. But it is his haunting depiction of the deserted loneliness of the interior of the cafe at night, after all the patrons had gone, that is our most lasting impression of the Cafe Alcazar. It is a place, van Gogh said, "...where you can ruin yourself, go mad, commit a crime... So I have tried to express, as it were, the powers of darkness in a low public house."