Updated: Feb 21
Vincent Van Gogh’s Magnus opus ‘The Starry Night’ is one of the most valuable pieces of art today ! Valued at an estimated price of $100 million, this painting now resides at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. It is a symbol of Van Gogh’s turbulent state of mind from when he painted it. The swirling hill lines, sky, and the mountains painted brilliantly in shades of blue and yellow with Cyprus trees, a vibrant moon, and a rare sighting of the planet Venus has made this painting this painting what it is today !
Van Gogh wrote a lot of letters in his shirt life and in one of them, he mentioned this painting as the “night effect”. His brother, Theo, a gifted art connoisseur felt that the painting “pushed the styles to far at the expense of true emotive substance” but that didn’t stop Van Gogh to paint this and this is now an iconic work in the world of modern landscape paintings.
This rare night landscape has mesmerized millions across the world and today we are here with a few lesser-known facts about the same !
1. He lived in an asylum for a little part of his life and this painting was made during one of his stays at the asylum. He had a mental breakdown in 1888 and as a result, stayed at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in France and the view from his room there became his inspiration for this masterpiece. In one of the letters he wrote to his brother Theo, he described the view from his window as “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.” This description of his later became the masterpiece that ‘The Starry Night’ is today.
2. His room in the asylum had iron bars on the windows so that the inmates of the asylum do not escape which means when Van Gogh painted it, the bars were there but he left them out. He took some liberties with respect to the view from his window. In another letter he wrote to Theo, he mentions “Through the iron-barred window, I can see an enclosed square of wheat … above which, in the morning, I watch the sunrise in all its glory.”
3. The village seen in the painting wasn’t actually there. His room in the asylum was on the second floor but he painted in a studio on the first floor and he could not see the village of Saint Remy from either of the windows. Art historians think that the village depicted in the painting is actually a village from one of Van Gogh’s charcoal sketches of the French town he was in.
4. This painting represented immortality ! It is believed that the Cyprus trees (the trees in the painting) are a representation of cemeteries and death, and the stars are said to be a depiction of death and the afterlife. He quoted “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.” His quotes and letters are all based on his beliefs on death, afterlife, and immortality.
5. The vibrant moon seen in the painting is not actually correct. According to art historians, the moon was a crescent and not a full moon when he painted the picture but Van Gogh depicted it as a full moon instead, which means that he was not astronomically correct! Not only this, art historian Albert Boime compared the painting to an actual recreation of that night in a planetarium and came to know that there were striking similarities in both the representations and that the ‘morning star’ in his painting was actually the planet ‘Venus’ !
6. Vincent Van Gogh sold only 1 piece of his art in his lifetime. His painting ‘Red Vineyard at Arles’ was purchased by Belgian artist Anna Boch for 400 francs in 1890. This is the only (documented) sale of Van Gogh’s paintings that he did. This painting is displayed at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. He never actually sold ‘The Starry Night’ because he considered it a failure but the irony here is that, this is one of the most expensive pieces of art there is (in the whole world).
7. If one sees closely, they can easily see the vivid use of the color yellow in the painting and there is an astonishing reason behind the same. According to pathologist Paul Wolf, the artist’s vivid use of the color yellow was because of him taking too much ‘digitalis’, a treatment he got for his epilepsy. This vibrant use of colors still resonates with the general public today and the swirling motion is what draws the attention of the viewers right into the center of this fantastical vision of Van Gogh.
8. The painting we all see and admire today is not the first Starry Night, but the second one. He actually considered this painting a big failure and painted it a total of 21 times. He considered it a failure because it was an experiment he was doing with a new and a much more marketable technique and it felt duplicitous to him even when he was painting it! And he felt like he sold himself out by following this trend.
9. This is not the only case of duplicity in his work! He painted this way as being a way through which he can commute to god and find peace for his tormented mind. He was deeply conflicted and mentioned in one of his letters to Theo that he has a “tremendous need for, shall I say the word—for religion—so I go outside at night to paint the stars.” And also says that “It would be so simple and would account so much for the terrible things in life, which now amaze and wound us so, if life had yet another hemisphere, invisible it is true, but where one lands when one dies.”
Here is the other case of duplicity. He wanted to paint the stars and wanted hos works to look more realistic but at the same time hoped that the sky he studied would become a vast splendor made especially for him.
10. During his stay at the asylum, he studied the sky very meticulously. His subjects were restricted but he never let his style be restricted. He experimented and examined with different weathers, changing light and often painted nearby wheat fields with bright skies or dark storm clouds. By the time he arrived at the asylum, he had already painted a few scenes, including ‘The Starry Night’ and he did so by using paint directly from the tube leading to a thick impasto effect as well as some intense hues.
The Starry Night was one of Van Gogh’s last pieces of art since he committed suicide the very next year. His brief artistic career was only 10 years short but a very productive one. The museum of Modern Art purchased it in 1941 and since then it has become one of Van Gogh’s most famous works in the art history canon !