Cliff Edwards


On his book Mystery of the Night Café: Hidden Key to the Spirituality of Vincent Van Gogh

Cover Interview of August 26, 2009

In a nutshell

This is my third book on the spiritual journey of the artist Vincent Van Gogh.  I began with an overview of his life, Van Gogh and God, then focused on nine critical paintings, The Shoes of Van Gogh.  Neither of those works satisfied my hope of getting to the heart of the fascination the artist holds for people all over the world.  Then I came upon one painting of his hanging in a gallery at Yale University.

The more I studied that painting, the more it revealed itself as the artist’s own key to his sense of life’s meaning.  The book is my attempt to take the reader with me, from clue to clue, as the mystery of the significance of this one painting, “The Night Café,” reveals itself.

I hope readers will treat it as a mystery to be solved, and will evaluate each of the clues I find and present.  Here we have one of the few paintings Van Gogh both signed and titled, a painting he described as “one of my only works with deep meaning.”  The mystery is how one painting inside a café for poor workers and misfits can serve as a key to the artist’s spiritual journey.

I believe I have solved the painting’s meaning.  I believe those who read this book will see the work in an entirely new and convincing way, and that this new way will open for the reader a new approach to the art of life.

The uniqueness of my approach, as compared to the hundreds of books written about Van Gogh, is that I take seriously the artist’s own interest in spirituality fostered by his personal study of the Bible and his original hope to become a pastor.  Most works on Van Gogh either seek to “psychoanalyze” him or catalogue his painting techniques.  They ignore his lifelong focus on spirituality and an art that “comforts” and “heals” both the art-maker and the art-viewer.  A background in biblical studies and theology, I believe, is essential to an informed reading of Van Gogh’s letters—and an informed viewing of Van Gogh’s paintings.  That is what I hope my book provides.