Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night

Date completed: 1889
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Location: Museum of Modern Art · New York City
Media: Oil painting Size: 29 x 36 1/4″ (73.7 x 92.1 cm)
Period: Post-Impressionism
Subject: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

The Starry Night is an oil on canvas painting by 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 ideal 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. Regarded as among Van Gogh’s finest works, The Starry Night is one of the most recognized paintings in the history of Western culture. The painting is dominated by a night sky roiling with chromatic blue swirls, a glowing yellow crescent moon, and stars rendered in impasto as radiating orbs. The cypress trees, which are flame-like, tower over the foreground to the left, their dark branches curling and swaying to the movement of the sky. Amid all this movement, the village Saint-Rémy-de-Provence sits on the lower right of the canvas. Straight controlled lines make up the small cottages and the towering slender steeple of a church, which rises as a beacon against rolling blue hills. The glowing yellow squares of the houses with welcoming lights of peaceful homes, creating a calm corner amid the painting’s turbulence.

Vincent wrote “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent describes his inspiration for one of his well known paintings, The Starry Night.

Van Gogh lived well in the hospital; he was allowed greater freedoms than any of the other patients. He could go out for the day with an attendant; he was allowed to paint, read, and was even given a studio. While he suffered from the infrequent relapse into paranoia and fits. He began to suffer hallucination and have thoughts of suicide as he plunged into depression. As a result there was a tonal shift in his work. He returned to using the darker colours from the beginning of his career and Starry Night is an example of that shift. Blue dominates the painting, blending hills into the sky. The little village lays at the base in the painting in browns, greys, and blues. Even though each building is clearly outlined in black, the yellow and white of the stars and the moon stand out against the sky, drawing the eyes to the sky.

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