Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
Nighttime Café Visit
Artistic voice: Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Arles
Oil on canvas, 92 x 77 cm

The separation of love and sex in the second half of the 19th century leads to a hygienic discourse on physical love. The patristic tone, which is one of solemnity, pain and suffering as well as of struggle, gives way to a modern tone representing the subsequent formation of ancient selfcare, cura sui. It is not about ridding oneself of sexuality or sublimating it, but managing it. What is needed is not temptation and struggle, but discipline. Desire has nothing to do with love; regardless of the object, it is considered a function of the male body. The brothel is the location of this hygienic act.

Professor Barbara Vinken, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich

The sober brothel scene is reminiscent of the virtually state-supported role of prostitution in the 19th century. In 1802, it was legalised by the French state. Beyond clichés of desire, art had not yet taken this role into account. Gauguin, who in 1888 was living with van Gogh in Arles, is sitting in the austere salon, scrutinising a prostitute. This at the same time creates a portrait of the artist that is otherwise absent in van Gogh’s oeuvre. The brothel was an important institution for van Gogh. In 1888, however, he expressed himself quite pragmatically about sexuality. He regarded it as a part of life that needed to be managed. The state had a very similar take on the matter.