Art & History

The Starry Night – Van Gogh | Paintings & Facts

The Starry Night – Van Gogh | Paintings & Facts

The Starry Night is an oil on canvas by the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1889, it depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an idealized village. 

It has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941, acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. It is regarded as among Van Gogh’s finest works, and is one of the most recognized paintings in the history of Western culture.

Starry Night

Facts About Painting

  • IT DEPICTS VAN GOGH’S VIEW FROM AN ASYLUM.

    After experiencing a mental breakdown in the winter of 1888, van Gogh checked himself in to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The view became the basis of his most iconic work. Of his inspiration, van Gogh wrote in one of his many letters to his brother Theo, “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”

  • HE LEFT OUT THE IRON BARS.

    Art historians have determined that van Gogh took some liberties with the view from his second story bedroom window, a theory supported by the fact that the studio in which he painted was on the building’s first floor. He also left out the window’s less-than-welcoming bars, a detail he included in another letter to Theo. In May of 1889, he wrote, “Through the iron-barred window. I can see an enclosed square of wheat … above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory.”

  • THE STARRY NIGHT MAY BE ABOUT MORTALITY.

    The dark spires in the foreground are cypress trees, plants most often associated with cemeteries and death. This connection gives a special significance to this van Gogh quote, “Looking at the stars always makes me dream. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.”

  • THIS WAS NOT VAN GOGH’S FIRST STARRY NIGHT.

    The Starry Night that is world-renowned was painted in 1889. But the year before, van Gogh created his original Starry Night, sometimes known as Starry Night Over The Rhone. After his arrival in Arles, France in 1888, van Gogh became a bit obsessed with capturing the lights of the night sky. He dabbled in its depiction with Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, before daring to make his first Starry Night draft with the view of the Rhone River.

  • VAN GOGH CONSIDERED THE STARRY NIGHT A “FAILURE.”

    Surveying the works that would become known as his Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Remy series, he wrote to Theo, “All in all the only things I consider a little good in it are the Wheatfield, the Mountain, the Orchard, the Olive trees with the blue hills and the Portrait and the Entrance to the quarry, and the rest says nothing to me.”

  • VAN GOGH UNKNOWINGLY PAINTED VENUS.

    In 1985, UCLA art historian Albert Boime compared Starry Night to a planetarium recreation of how the night’s sky would have appeared on June 19, 1889. The similarities were striking, and proved that van Gogh’s “morning star,” as referenced in his letter to his brother, was in fact the planet Venus.

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