Born in Naples, Italy, Agostina Segatori ran a café in Paris at the Boulevard de Clichy. She also posed for Corot, Gérôme and Manet. When Van Gogh arrived in Paris, he was soon smitten with her, constantly lending his work to her advances, and the two may indeed have a brief affair.
The café was located near the residence of Van Gogh and Theo, and Van Gogh often dined there out of convenience and interest. As he could not afford to pay for his meals, he offered paintings in exchange, so many of his works hung on the walls of the café. Eventually, due to poor business, the café was forced to close, Segatori fell ill, and Van Gogh's works were disposed of as scrap.
The painting shows Segatori sitting behind a small table, a theme said to have been suggested by the Impressionist painters Degas and Manet, and the table and stools are in the shape of a bell drum, which fits the theme of the café. The bell drum-shaped stools also appear in another of Van Gogh's works, Basket of Pansies.
In February 1887, Van Gogh held an exhibition in the café for the sale of his collection of Japanese prints, and this is one of them during which he created this work.
The cafe hostess in the painting is dressed modernly, reflecting the fashions of the time in her clothing, face and hair, and the hat she wears is very fashionable. Although there is only one glass full of beer on the table, the two plates reflect that it is already the second beer, and the cigarette lit in the woman's hand shows that her role in life is not that of a respectable and dignified lady, suggesting that she may also be engaged in some kind of erotic business.