Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh - Arles - 1889
When Vincent van Gogh was a patient in an asylum at Saint-Rémy in the south of France, he wrote 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." The morning star is another name for Venus, and it may be the large white pulsating form, just to the left of center in this painting. Van Gogh stayed up three nights in a row to paint the view from his window in the asylum, because, as he said,
"the Starry Night is more alive and more richly colored than the day."
But Van Gogh was not just painting an Starry Night as an image of what he saw. In fact, the church spire here is typical of
Holland, the artist's native country. So this is a picture rooted in his imagination and memory as well--a fantastic, apocalyptic
vision of the night sky. What others might have viewed as a placid scene, Van Gogh has rendered in heaving and churning
waves. Each stroke of paint is more than a dab of color--it's a field of energy, as well.
The contrast between the chaos of the heavens and the quiet order of the village below this Starry Night is remarkable.
The cyprus tree--known as the tree of death for its traditional associations with graveyards and mourning--creates a flamelike connection between the earth and sky. But for Van Gogh, a man of strong Christian faith, death was not ominous;
it was the path to heaven.
He himself said:
Van Gogh (actor's voice): "...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."
Starry Night The Museum of Modern Art New York
Oil on canvas
73.0 x 92.0 cm
Saint Remy 1889
MoMA Museum of Modern Art, NY
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