The Starry Night – ARTKEMON

The Starry Night



The Dutchman Vincent Van Gogh, known by many as “the guy who cut his ear”, is one of the pioneers of post-impressionism. Vincent is known for having a difficult life, full of chiaroscuro and unfavorable strokes that stopped him from achieving success before he died, but that positioned him within the list of art rockstars in international history.

He painted more than 900 paintings and 1,600 drawings during his short career (he died in 1890, at the age of 37), but there is one of them that is considered by many as his masterpiece: “The Starry Night”, a painting that hides elements with complex psychology.

Below, we detail each fragment so that you can understand and appreciate even more this (impressive) work of an artistic genius.


                                        (St. Paul Monastery, turned into a lunatic asylum)

Vincent was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital (former St. Paul Monastery) because of his nervous breakdowns and his delicate state of mental health, frequently suffering episodes of depression and epileptic seizures. During this time, he painted a series of 150 works, including The Starry Night, which he completed in 1889.

(St. Paul Monastery, turned into a lunatic asylum)

The views he had from the hospital in Saint-Rémy were his great inspiration; he painted infinite versions at different times of the day and in different climates, but the nights full of stars were the ones that really obsessed him, as he confesses in his letters to Theo, his brother.

Making oil paintings of night landscapes was a fixation for him. Before his famous Starry Night, there were other paintings that, although not as renowned, they show his great passion and curiosity for observing the night sky. A year before completing Starry Night, the genius painter created Starry Night over the Rhone, and before that, he painted Coffee Terrace at Night. In both paintings, he captured the lights of the night sky that he later developed into the world-renowned Starry Night.



                                  Starry Night over the Rhone

He also mentions his enormous desire to paint the sky in a letter to Émile Bernard (also a Post-Impressionist painter of the time) "When am I going to succeed in making the starry sky, that painting that is always in my mind?" he said in June 1888.

The Starry Night was reproduced more than 21 times until the version we know today. The doctors at the boarding school would not allow him to paint from his room, so the work was sketched from the outside and painted from the author's memories.

Also, unknowingly, Vincent had painted the planet Venus in his painting. This fact was discovered by the historian Albert Boime, who, comparing the painting with a map of the sky on the day The Starry Night was painted (June 9, 1889), realized the detail. Actually, "the dawn star" of which the artist spoke in his letters to Theo was the planet Venus.


The artistic style is characteristic of Van Gogh: oil paint with short, stippled brushstrokes, an artificial color palette, undulating lines, and detailed attention to luminescence. The sky is a combination of blue and gold hues that are applied with thick brushstrokes, the clouds are swirling, the stars are luminous and a large moon dominates the scene. To the left of the work is a large figure, compared to the scale of the rest of the scene, it is a large, dark, and isolated cypress.

Finally, at the bottom of the painting is the village of Saint-Rémy, which was not visible from the hospital, but which the painter decided to include in his vision.


There are many theories of historians who have devoted themselves to studying the work of Van Gogh, but one of the most recurrent is the relationship with death due to the cypresses, which are distinctive of cemeteries and, moreover, it is a detail that he confirms in one of his letters: “Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. 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 a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. Sketch of A Cypress against a Starry                       



Sketch of A Cypress against a Starry Sky in a letter to Gauguin (c. 17 June 1890)

Other experts claim this is surrealist symbolism, speaking of a dark night that actually glows, as a sign of a deep desire to escape.

Painting a landscape in oil was one of Van Gogh's favorite occupations, although, ironically,  he acknowledged that he never liked The Starry Night, as well as the rest of the works he created during his stay in the asylum of Saint-Remy.

In fact, as he confirmed to his brother in another letter, the only paintings he considered really good were The Wheatfield, The Mountain, The Orchard, The Olive Trees with Blue Hills, The Portrait, and The Entrance to the Quarry. "The rest don't tell me anything," Van Gogh said. He would never have guessed that his most impactful work was not on this list.

The oil painting is currently in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). The original title of the painting is De Sterrennacht and translates into English as The Starry Night.

Van Gogh's Influences on Art

It is not only one of the most reproduced and versioned paintings in history, it has gone far beyond, inspiring artists in painting and other disciplines, one of the famous ones is Don Mclean who, upon reading Van Gogh's life, was inspired by the painting to write his most famous song: "Vincent".

Mclean, an avowed admirer of the painter's work and life, writes moving words: "And when there was no hope left on a starry night, you took your life as lovers are wont to do, but I could have told you: Vincent this world was never for people as beautiful as you."

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